Schools 'bribed' to use phonics, MPs' report says

A cross-party group of MPs has warned that the coalition Government's focus on phonics as the only way to teach children to read will lead to a decline in literacy.

In a report into overcoming the barriers to literacy, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education says that cash-strapped schools are being pushed into using synthetic phonics, because they are offered matched funding if they buy approved phonics products and training.
It says that schools must buy resources from a small range of products from only one source.

The report emphasises that literacy policy should focus on instilling a love of reading to increase children’s motivation, well-being and attainment.

The report, which is based on evidence from nearly 600 teachers and educationalists, says that the Government’s focus on synthetic phonics is at odds with the views of schools and education experts, who recommend a broad-ranging approach to literacy.

It also goes against the Government’s move to give schools more autonomy in other areas.
‘Phonics’ and ‘reading’ are being used interchangeably by policymakers, but reading isolated words is not reading for meaning, the report says.

It recommends that matched phonics funding should be re-directed so that schools have the freedom to buy resources of their choice and use one-to-one reading tuition.

It also says that the Department for Education alone should not be responsible for literacy policy. Factors such as parental involvement and health issues, such as eye care, are also vital to children's reading.

Fabian Hamilton, chair of the APPG for Education, said, ‘Literacy is the key to the curriculum. Pursuing phonics without considering whether pupils can comprehend what they’re reading, and without paying any attention to whether children enjoy reading, will switch children off. Learning to read - especially a complex language like English – cannot be reduced to a mechanical process.’

Ray Barker, director of  the British Educational Suppliers Association, which supported the APPG’s report, 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.’

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