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Phonics teaching: a child’s passport to literacy


Systematic phonics should feature in every child’s reading instruction and it should be part of every literacy teacher’s repertoire, according to a Government-funded review of research by academics at the Universities of York and Sheffield.

The review, commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), found that systematic phonics - letters and sounds taught in sequence from early childhood -- resulted in better progress in reading accuracy among children of all abilities. But evidence for corresponding improvements in reading comprehension and spelling was inconclusive.

A team including Professor Greg Brooks, of the School of Education at Sheffield, and Carole Torgerson, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Educational Studies at York, and Jill Hall, analysed the results of the 12 randomised trials of phonics since 1970. Nine of the studies were carried out in the USA and Canada, while the others took place in New Zealand, Australia and Scotland.

Carole Torgerson said: "Systematic phonics looks promising. It has got results and we have found a positive effect that is statistically significant. We believe that, balanced with other methods, it should become a routine part of literacy teaching - it should be part of every literacy teacher’s repertoire.

"But we have to urge caution as the evidence base is relatively limited - we have just a dozen small trials, the biggest of which involved 120 children. There is no definitive conclusion from the trials included in the review as to which phonics approaches are most effective."

Professor Brooks added: "We are recommending a large-scale UK-based randomised controlled trial to investigate the relative effectiveness of different systematic phonics approaches for children with different learning characteristics."

David Garner | alfa
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