Phonics focus may hinder literacy


The Government’s concentration on specific phonics approaches to reading may hamper the development of literacy or even lead to a decline in standards, says a new report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Education.

While phonics is already widely used in classrooms, it is currently employed, in most cases, in conjunction with other reading systems. However, the report, Overcoming the Barriers to Literacy, raises fears that the Government’s initiative to match-fund school’s investment in phonics programmes will lead to an over reliance on phonics.

Ray Barker, Director of the British Educational Suppliers Association, who managed and supported the report, goes further, arguing that financial pressures may force schools to take advantage of matched funding for phonics products and training, thereby forcing them down the phonics path. “This is at odds with many teachers’ experience that a broad-ranging approach to literacy, alongside one-to-one tuition, is most effective”, claims Mr Barker.

In addition, the APPG report claims that an over-reliance on phonics might put children off reading because the phonics system – which encourages children to learn individual sounds and then blend them together to form words – is “mechanical” and does not inspire children to enjoy reading for pleasure. “The phonics test is likely to demotivate children rather than ensure that they become eager and fluent readers,” says the report.

The Government’s scheme is also criticised for being limited to a small number of government-selected phonics resources which are only available through one supplier. Stressing the need for teachers to be able to make their own choices regarding the right resources to meet individual requirements, the report argues that “there should be no government prescription of resources, and funding should be given directly to professionals to deal with their school’s literacy issues.”

Mr Barker also claimed that the Government’s scheme flies in the face of its stated aim to create greater autonomy for schools.

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