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."

Notes for Editors: o Definitions:
o Phonics instruction: Literacy teaching approaches which focus on the relationships between letters and sounds.
o Synthetic phonics: The defining characteristics of synthetic phonics for reading are sounding-out and blending.
o Analytic phonics: The defining characteristics of analytic phonics are avoiding sounding-out, and inferring sound-symbol relationships from sets of words which share a letter and sound, e.g. pet, park, push, pen.
o Systematic phonics: Teaching of letter-sound relationships in an explicit, organised and sequenced fashion, as opposed to incidentally or on a 'when-needed' basis. This may refer to systematic synthetic or systematic analytic phonics.

o Professor Greg Brooks can be contacted through Danielle Reeves in the University of Sheffield's press office on 0114 222 5339 or email d.reeves@sheffield.ac.uk
o Carole Torgerson can be contacted through David Garner in the University of York Press Office on 01904 432153 or email dcg501@york.ac.uk