Memorandum submitted by Sue Lloyd, retired
teacher and co-author
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
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
The education system itself causes
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
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.