The National Scandal! Teaching Reading — my correspondence with Susan Godsland at the RRF

23 March 2010

 Speaking at the Reading Reform Foundation conference has really crystallised my thoughts on the teaching on reading. I found it both positive and depressing. Positive in that the RRF is offering concrete solutions that appear to work, but depressing but they’ve been ignored for too long. Here is my correspondence so far with Susan Godsland. I suggested that reading reform should be more of an election issue. Michael Gove has a policy which I think is too draconian: insisting that everyone should read at 6 years of age. What we need is a sense of balance and a clear system which encourages and fosters reading, as well as assessing it properly. Parents need to be more involved in the process, and, if necessary, taught to read themselves.

Here’s Susan’s illuminating email to me which she agreed could be published.

Hi Francis,

I’m really pleased that you’d like to help us get the reading issue pushed to the forefront of people minds especially in this election period. As you say, it’s a national scandal that in the 21st century 20% + of young people leave school still unable to read when we now have several, excellent evidence-based programmes that, if used correctly by well-trained and enthusiastic teachers, would enable all but a tiny minority (2-3%) to learn to read (decode) within the first 1-2 years of school. With classes of fully literate students all the wonderful stuff that you’d like to do with them in secondary becomes possible and enjoyable.

The RRF is working on several fronts –all connected The main ones are:

1. Teacher training: remains in the control of professors with whole language (WL) sympathies, and a vested interest in it remaining that way. We know that the primary teacher training reading lists remain almost entirely WL based.

2. Synthetic phonics for secondary and adult intervention: There are presently no government produced synthetic phonics intervention programmes for secondary or adults. There is a tiny handful of effective and fast working commercial intervention programmes but SENCos/secondary teachers generally know nothing about them.

3. Continuing whole language presence in the early teaching of reading and in interventions: Despite the Rose Report (2006) being accepted in full by the government and its promise then to ensure that synthetic phonics was used for the early teaching of reading, the majority of schools remain mired in muddle re. reading instruction – see the continuing use of WL reading books, the teaching of the ‘high frequency words’ as global sight words, alphabet letter names, onset and rime, multi-cueing… This is due to poor training by ITTs and advisors, teachers’ reluctance to change habitual practice, whole language ideology, myths and misinformation spread about synthetic phonics… The main government funded and promoted Wave 3 intervention (for 6yr.olds) is the WL programme Reading Recovery (RR) RR was examined recently and consequently slammed by Parliament’s Science and Technology committee, but to no avail. Furthermore, RR has many copies, all in wide use and all completely WL based. Adult literacy/Basic skills teaching is nearly entirely whole language –see Phil Beadle about this.

4. Dyslexia: this is my personal area of expertise and interest. Parliament’s Science and Technology committee recently examined the evidence for dyslexia, along with specialist ‘dyslexia’ teaching, and weren’t impressed. The facts are: there is no scientifically valid way of differentiating the ‘dyslexics’ out from a group of struggling readers; that many European countries (those with transparent alphabet codes and synthetic phonics teaching methods) have no ‘dyslexia’ –all children learn to read and spell within 12 weeks of starting school; that by using an evidence-based, synthetic phonics intervention programme such as the Sound Reading System I can teach virtually anyone (all ages) to read and whether or not they have been professionally diagnosed as ‘dyslexic’ before they come to me makes no difference.

So, there is much to do and any help would be much appreciated! Thank you.


Also, the heart of the RRF is its message board. Here you’ll find active discussion of the issues surrounding the teaching of reading (with some digressions) You’re welcome to join us –register and dive in!

1 comment

  1. Francis Gilbert wrote: ”Michael Gove has a policy which I think is too draconian: insisting that everyone should read at 6 years of age”.

    Jenny Chew, who also spoke at the RRF conference, wrote the following on the RRF message board when I put up your comment about Michael Gove, Francis:

    ”W)hat Michael Gove is proposing is a simple decoding test towards the end of Year 1 (second year of school) to ensure that children have mastered the basics – ‘basics’ of a kind that the RRF would approve of.”

    from Susan

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