New study is a vindication of the technique which teaches children to read using phonetic sounds rather than letters
Children taught to read using phonics techniques have achieved “very high” results, according to new research, which cited the example of a seven-year-old boy able to read and spell to the level of a 13-year-old.
The results of the study, by the educational psychologist Marlynne Grant, are a vindication of the widespread introduction of synthetic or blended phonics in schools in England since 2010. The method teaches children to read by identifying and pronouncing sounds rather than individual letters.
The publication of the research comes as 500,000 year one children in state primary schools in England take the phonics screening check this week, a brief test to measure progress.
Teachers and unions initially resisted the use of the check, which followed the coalition’s introduction of compulsory synthetic phonics to teach literacy in state schools. But since then, more teachers have embraced the method, which is supported by research in the UK and abroad.
The new study followed a group of 30 children who were taught using phonics for the first time in reception, and tracked their progress for three years, to the end of year two in primary school.
Grant’s research found that in 2013, members of the year two class of seven-year-olds were on average 28 months ahead of their chronological age for reading and 21 months above their age for spelling. The 2011-13 study follows a much larger longitudinal study in 2004-07 by Grant that found the same results, with below-average and disadvantaged readers catching up with their classmates by the end of reception.
“The use of a systematic synthetic phonics programme was shown to give children a flying start with their reading, writing and spelling, it was effective for catch-up, it reduced special educational needs across the schools and it enabled higher numbers of children to transfer to their secondary schools well equipped to access the curriculum,” Grant concluded.
Grant said that there was no evidence to suggest that phonics teaching will “switch off” children from a love of reading books. “On the contrary, children taught in this way pick up reading quickly. They become enthusiastic and confident in their reading and are more able and willing to engage in the world of reading around them,” Grant said.
The child at the highest level in the year two class for reading and spelling was a boy aged seven years five months. By the end of the study he was completely fluent at reading and spelling, comparable to a child of 13 years nine months for reading and 14 years nine months for spelling.
A survey of more than 1,000 teachers and literacy specialists at primary schools found that 72% agreed the phonics check was useful for identifying children who were struggling. But only 60% of schools said they taught synthetic phonics first and foremost, with other schools saying they used a combination of techniques.
A DfE spokesman said: “We are determined to eradicate illiteracy – and our phonics check is a key part of this objective. In the past, far too many children left primary school unable to read properly and continued to struggle in secondary school and beyond.”