Heads question £80,000 to spread the phonics message

Heads question £80,000 to spread the phonics message

Eight schools are set to get £10,000 to help spread “excellent phonics teaching” – but the Government should review other approaches about learning to read, say headteachers.

Schools minister Nick Gibb (pictured right)announced on Tuesday that grants of £10,000 would be given to eight groups of schools – led by “top-performing” primaries – to help them to spread their expertise to other schools.

The groups would include those “seeking to make rapid improvements in their phonics teaching”.

Gibb

But the systematic teaching of phonics is already well-established in primary schools and the money should be invested in a different way, says Lynn Knapp, head of Windmill Primary School in Oxford.

“For some children phonics is not quite the right approach. Often children who are dyslexic find phonics difficult, so we find we have to offer a variety of approaches.”

Given the focus on phonics since the introduction of annual phonics check three years ago, Ms Knapp questions the need for more money to embed the practice in all schools.

“For me, rather than focusing solely on phonics it would make more sense to invest money in how children learn to read effectively and become literate.

“For £10,000 you could invest in some good research into what makes a difference and what doesn’t with children who aren’t responding to phonics.”

The president of the National Association of Head Teachers, Tony Draper (pictured top), who is head of Water Hall Primary School in Bletchley, Milton Keynes, backed her view: “She is spot on the mark. Phonics is a very valuable tool – but it is not the only tool. I believe the phonics screening check (PSC) has served its purpose.

“They should be putting more effort into learning more about the outcomes of other methods of teaching reading, so that all children have access to varied approaches to learning how to read. One size does not fit all.”

The Government’s emphasis on the systematic teaching of phonics as a key to reading success was undermined last month with the publication of a three-year evaluation of the phonics screening check.

The evaluation carried out for the Department for Education (DfE) by the National Foundation for Educational Research did not find evidence of improvement in literacy or in progress that could be attributed clearly to the annual test.

Announcing this week’s initiative, Mr Gibb said that three years on from the introduction of the PSC “100,000 more six-year-olds each year are on track to become confident, proficient readers.

“But I want to go further and ensure all children across the country are benefitting from the excellent phonics teaching I have seen first-hand in our best schools”.

Schools Week understands a key distinguishing feature of the strongest proposals from schools wanting to lead partnerships was their commitment to teaching systematic synthetic phonics as the prime strategy for word recognition. The partnerships will set clear objectives to enable them to measure the impact of their activities, so the DfE can monitor the effect of the grants.

A DfE spokesman said: “This funding allows schools to share their expertise and will ensure more children are benefitting from excellent phonics teaching. The evidence is clear that phonics is the most effective method for teaching literacy for all children.”