Child-led approach to learning to read is blamed for illiteracy

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Primary schools are 'breeding illiteracy' in children by allowing a 'child-led' approach to learning and because they are failing to use synthetic phonics repeatedly, according to the right-wing think-tank Centre for Policy Studies.

The report So why can't they read?, commissioned by Mayor of London Boris Johnson, to examine why 25 per cent of children in the capital leave primary school with difficulties in reading and writing, discusses the pro-phonics and anti-phonics arguments.

Author Miriam Gross says that while 'the dispute may never be resolved ... there is plenty of evidence which proves beyond reasonable doubt that phonics, "first and fast", is the most effective way for beginners to learn to read.'

She concludes, 'synthetic phonics is the simplest, the most effective and by far the cheapest way of teaching and learning the basic skill of reading'.

The report also blames teachers for tolerating 'street language', which has its own grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation, saying that many primary school teachers 'encourage children to read in poems and stories written in ethnic dialects' without pointing out 'linguistic discrepancies'.

But Dr Sebastian Suggate, Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow at the University of Wurzburg, said synthetic phonics 'cannot be singled out as a cure'.

He said the report overlooked the fundamental problem, that children were starting school 'without having had the rich play and language foundation children in other countries enjoy, and in earlier times enjoyed. It seems they are physically less active, have less quality time with parents, watch more television and play more computer games.

'Imposing a regime of mechanistic synthetic phonics on these children is going to do nothing for their language, nothing for their discipline, and probably nothing for their long-term reading achievement or enjoyment.'

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