This month, education secretary Ruth Kelly stated on Sky News, 'We should have a systematic approach to teaching synthetic phonics, that should be taught first and foremost to all children, certainly by the age of five and then, yes, other strategies should come in after that to help and support those readers for whom a variety of methods is appropriate.'
I strongly disagree. It is madness to believe that you should start the literacy process by first focusing only on the letters of the alphabet. The best thing parents can do to help their young child to become literate is to put them on their knee and turn over the pages of a favourite book to anticipate the story and the pictures. It is wrong to believe that synthetic phonics is the 'best route to becoming skilled readers', as stated in Jim Rose's review.
Ruth Kelly has probably made the biggest faux pas by an education secretary in British educational history. I believe that the Government got it totally right when they wrote in 1998, 'All teachers know that pupils become successful readers by learning to use a range of strategies to get at the meaning of a text.'
I am the pioneer of the phonics programme THRASS (Teaching Handwriting Reading And Spelling Skills), which is used in many nurseries and schools worldwide. Speaking and listening skills are the fundamental building blocks of all literacy programmes. The richer the language experiences of young children, the greater their chances are of learning to read, write and spell easily. Activities involving naming, describing, categorising and discussing pictures are essential speaking and listening skills.
Back in 1992, Nursery World quoted me as saying, 'The British education system has got it wrong with the teaching of reading.' It still has.