The Research Behind Phonics

There have been three major international enquiries into the teaching of reading:

All three reports reached the same conclusion: the most effective way to teach children to read is through systematic phonics instruction.

The Independent review of the teaching of early reading (Sir Jim Rose, 2006) was a UK wide study. One catalyst for the review was the now world-renowned Clackmannanshire research by Rhona Johnston and Joyce Watson.

Clackmannanshire in a Nutshell

*However, as mean receptive vocabulary knowledge (an index of verbal ability where the average is 100) was 93 at the start of the study, this is a group of children for whom normal performance might be expected to be below average for chronological age on standardised tests. Therefore this may be an underestimate of the gains with this method.

The Clackmannanshire research was the first to confirm the superiority of synthetic phonics over analytic phonics. More recent studies continue to replicate the results.

Further longitudinal research has shown that systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) is effective for the reading, spelling and writing skills of all children, and especially for those disadvantaged because of factors such as gender, socio-economic group, first language not English, age, struggling learners, children with attention difficulties and those with significant social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.

It is successful even with children starting Primary 1 with the lowest level of language and with low social skills on school entry and with children who display dyslexic-type difficulties.

Tragically, Scotland continues to ignore its own research in this area and the teaching of reading and spelling is still left to chance.

Most children do not receive systematic synthetic phonics and most programmes adopted by schools in Scotland do not align with current international research.

Teachers in Scotland are not routinely trained in research-informed reading instruction, despite a petition being lodged with the Scottish Government in 2017.

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