Government focus on phonics is flawed


The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Education has raised concerns that the coalition Government’s focus on phonics will contribute to a decline in literacy standards.

Supported and managed by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), the APPG’s report, ‘Overcoming the Barriers to Literacy’, drew many conclusions including the recommendation that a single focus on systematic synthetic phonics is flawed.

The report, based on evidence from 584 teachers and educational stakeholders including teachers’ unions, literacy associations, publishers and outreach organisations, made strong recommendations to the government for a review.

The report referred to problems with the government’s recent initiative to match-fund school’s investment to a specific and limited number of government-selected phonics learning resources, only available through one supplier. It stated that ‘Teachers must be able to choose their own resources for literacy to suit individual literacy needs.’ It went on to stress that; ‘there should be no government prescription of resources, and funding should be given directly to professionals to deal with their school’s literacy issues.’

Ray Barker, director, BESA said: "For cash-strapped schools the incentive to take advantage of the matched funding offered for phonics products and training will push them in the direction of synthetic phonics.  This is at odds with many teachers’ experience that a broad-ranging approach to literacy, alongside one-to-one tuition, is most effective.  It also goes against the move towards school autonomy in other areas."

The APPG report of the inquiry Into Overcoming The Barriers To Literacy concluded that:

  • There is obviously a need for continuing professional development (CPD) and for revisions to initial teacher training. With the decline of local authority help for schools, the education supplies industry has a big role to play in the support of teachers in mediating materials and methods.
  • There needs to be greater discussion of what it is important to teach and to learn in the 21st century. At the moment there are a range of unfair and unproductive pressures such as league tables, examinations and what is seen as a restrictive curriculum – all of which are barriers to improving literacy.
  • Discussion with teachers and school leaders tends to focus on funding and resources, but research has shown that high levels of expenditure are not necessarily associated with high performance.
  • Teachers also need the freedom to choose their own resources to suit their particular needs and not be told what to buy and where to buy from. Libraries must be central to literacy development, and must be appropriately resourced. When choosing resources, the professionalism of teachers must be accepted.

Barker continued: ‘Our members and the sector in which we operate are firmly focused on education outcomes and it is essential that the industry is a part of policy change from early stages. This will ensure that appropriate, high quality resources and approaches can be developed in a cost-effective and timely way for the benefit of all."