Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Sue Lloyd, retired teacher and co-author

Jolly Phonics


  In the late 1970s I taught Reception children at Woods Loke PS, Lowestoft, Suffolk. During this period the school used the initial teaching alphabet (ita). The method of teaching reading was then altered from a "look and say" method to a synthetic phonics approach. The Head of Infants implemented this change in order to help the children who were failing with our old approach. Immediately this change in method proved to be far more successful. Also, the improvement was clearly reflected on the county standardised 6+ Young's Reading Test, the average quotient rising from 102.6 to 108.4.

  A few years later we took part in a research project by Dr Douglas Pidgeon. His philosophy was that the children should be able to hear all the sounds in words before being taught to read or write. When we incorporated this training into our usual teaching, we realised that some children were poor at hearing the sounds in words, and that it was possible to teach them this skill. Once again we had an improvement in our standardised reading test scores, the average quotient rising to 110+. To take an average quotient up eight points is highly significant. The most encouraging aspect was that this training particularly helped the bottom group of children.

  Naturally we were delighted to see this improvement in our children, and expected our Local Education Authority (LEA) to be equally pleased. Much to our amazement, our advisor would not even come in and see this improvement. She disapproved of ita and phonics. This was quite an eye opener. From these experiences I realised that method of teaching made all the difference between success and failure, and that the advisors were not looking for the best ways of teaching children. Over the next two decades, after changing from ita to traditional orthography, I was able to confirm that the improvement had been caused by changing to synthetic phonics, and was not linked to the ita. I also spent time looking at scientific research, and trying to understand why teachers were being wrongly advised. My quest to find the answers led me to deduce the reasons for the reading problems which I have itemised below. In 1990 I met Christopher Jolly, who really was interested in my findings, and this was the start of Jolly Phonics.

The reasons why we have problems with the teaching of reading

    —  The education system itself causes the problems.

    —  New ideas tend to come from academic, charismatic gurus, who have no relevant classroom experience.

    —  Ideas are then presented at the top and, in a similar fashion to pyramid selling, permeate, via the Teacher Training Authorities (TTA) and LEA advisory services, to the schools and teachers in the classrooms.

    —  Promotion depends on being willing to embrace the latest ideas. This encourages headteachers, or aspiring headteachers, to fall in with these ideas.

    —  The gurus, lecturers and advisors who are involved in promoting the ideas have not been held accountable to anyone. They virtually never provide evidence that the ideas they are passing on have been tested in the classroom, with evidence-based research to back them up.

    —  State Education is a powerful monopoly, which, if not checked, can become extremely inefficient. This has certainly happened in England, particularly with the introduction of wrong methods for teaching reading. Many teachers have tried to resist what they knew were misguided ideas, but the system was too strong.

Why the National Literacy Strategy (NLS) has largely been a failure

    —  Choosing the wrong method of phonics instruction was, in my view, the main cause of the NLS failure, particularly for boys and the bottom group of children. Instead of choosing the much more effective synthetic phonics approach, the NLS authors elected to use a mixture of methods, which were more akin to analytic phonics.

    —  The writers of the NLS should not have published and promoted materials that they knew were not nearly effective enough. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) tested the National Literacy Project and reported that the children's reading scores were still significantly below the national average. With these dismal results the whole project should have been scrapped. Instead, a few changes were made, and the faulty NLS teaching programme was forced into schools. We know that it was not supposed to be mandatory, but in reality teachers saw it as mandatory. Once again the power of this monopoly was too great.

    —  The revised NLS should have been tested in the classrooms, using evidence-based scientific research, and only then passed on to the teachers if the results were higher than any other reading programmes.

    —  The NLS initiatives were supposed to correct the imbalance between the results of boys and girls, as well as prevent the serious reading failure of the bottom 25%. Fairly soon it was obvious that this initiative was not working for these particular groups. Unfortunately there could be no serious discussions about this failure. Everyone at the top closed ranks. Teachers like myself who were in schools that used synthetic phonics and were achieving the goals that the NLS was supposed to reach, were brushed aside.

    —  Debate in education has never really been encouraged. Teachers were, and still are, expected to listen to the lecturers/advisors, and to follow their advice. BUT the advice we have been given has nearly always been faulty! This is why I think, as stated earlier, "the education system itself causes the problems", and, in my view, is in great need of reform.


    —  Follow the Scottish example and provide everyone with the evidence-based research that clearly shows that synthetic phonics is the most effective way to teach reading. (Note that the NLS is not a true synthetic phonics programme. ERR, Fast Phonics First, Step-by-Step, rml and Jolly Phonics are synthetic phonics programmes.)

    —  Commission more scientific evidence-based research, with all the necessary controls, into aspects of teaching reading that have not been sufficiently examined eg How necessary are decodable texts? Schools should be informed of the results.

    —  Transfer LEA advisors back into the classroom, and give the extra money directly to schools. Students undergoing teacher-training should be informed of the evidence-based research into the teaching of reading and writing, taught about the opaque alphabetic code of English, and given lessons in how to teach synthetic phonics.

    —  Scrap the 7+ SATs. Instead, use simple group standardised reading and spelling tests at the end of each year. This would enable a teacher to know how effective her teaching had been that year, and would let parents know how their children were progressing.

  It is possible to have all children, apart from the 2% with clinical disorders, reading and writing fluently before they enter Year 3. We must look to science, and effective schools, to give us the answers, not fads and fashions.

January 2005

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