Phonics training company to run literacy centre

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The Department for Education has come under fire for awarding the contract to run a centre that will train Reception teachers to teach children to read to a leading commercial phonics provider.


The contract to run the new English Hubs Training Centre and a national network of English Hubs across the country has been awarded to the training company run by Ruth Miskin who devised the Read Write Inc. Phonics programme.

The centre will be run in association with I CAN and the National Literacy Trust, as well as other phonics training providers Sounds Write, Jolly Phonics, Sounds Discovery, Phonics International and Floppy Phonics.

The English Hubs will offer free literacy support to local schools in school-based nurseries, Reception and Key Stage 1.

Ms Miskin has been praised by schools minister Nick Gibb and was awarded a CBE earlier this year for services to education.

What will the training centre and the English Hubs do?

The centre will train and advise teachers appointed by the hubs to become literacy specialists to support schools most in need.

The DfE said the centre would promote and share effective practice with a particular focus on language and literacy teaching in Reception. This would mirror the work of Maths Hubs, high performing schools which share their knowledge with other local schools.

The training centre will focus on three priority areas: age-appropriate phonics provision; early language development; and promoting a love of reading.

English Hubs are infant and primary schools appointed to support other schools to deliver teaching in Reception and Year 1 to achieve better outcomes for all pupils, with a particular focus on the lowest 20 per cent of pupils in the most disadvantaged schools. The first hubs started operating in 2018.

The programme is made up of primary schools chosen by the DfE for their strong track record in teaching children to read. The latest English Hubs to be named are Horsendale School in Nottingham, which will open the Flying High English Hub, and Heather Avenue Infant School in Norfolk, which will open the Wensum Trust English Hub, taking the number of hubs to 34.

The centre will train and support 180 teachers, appointed by the hubs, to become literacy specialists. These literacy specialists will go on to support teachers working in some of the most disadvantaged areas in the UK. They will support local schools with teaching in phonics, early reading, early language development and building a culture of reading in Reception and Key Stage 1.

The English Hubs Council, made up of leading phonics experts, reading experts and headteachers, will oversee the English Hubs and training centre.

The DfE said literacy specialists will be given training in the principles for implementing all systematic synthetic phonics teaching; the conditions necessary for early language development; and habits that build a strong reading school. They will also then receive specific training in the phonics programme the partner school is using and in a new free language and storytelling programme.

Concern over 'phonics-only' approach

However, the UK Literacy Association said it was concerned that phonics teaching was being prioritised over other methods of teaching children to read and that many of the partners listed were also phonics specialists who published commercial phonics programmes.

David Reedy of the UKLA executive committee said, ‘Although phonics is essential for early reading development, it is not sufficient to develop fully rounded young readers. In particular, it is not sufficient in helping children make sense of what they read, which is the prime purpose of reading. There is little indication in the announcement that comprehension will be a key focus.

‘UKLA is pleased that language development and reading for pleasure are mentioned but they seem to be an afterthought and to have less status than phonics instruction, whereas research evidence suggests that they are even more important for young readers when they enter school.

‘Ruth Miskin has been very successful in developing and promoting phonics teaching. However, there is less evidence that a phonics-only approach helps children to read all words accurately or, on its own, develops reading for meaning.

‘For example, common words such as "come" and "the" are not phonically regular and words like "read" can only be pronounced accurately in the context of their sentence.

‘Any training programme should reflect the substantial research evidence that shows a balanced approach to reading is the most effective. This would include attention to a range of word reading strategies, attention to comprehension and inference making, language development, engagement in reading as well as the reading experiences children bring with them from home.

'UKLA looks forward to seeing the details of the training programme which includes all of the above and more.’

School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said, ‘Our English Hubs programme is already helping children up and down the country benefit from the highest standards of teaching expertise. That is why I’m delighted to see two more hubs opening, helping to spread best practice in the teaching of reading.

‘Reading and writing are the foundations of any broad and balanced curriculum. Our increased focus on phonics means more children are being equipped with these basic building blocks at the earliest stage, with 163,000 more six-year-olds on track to become fluent readers than in 2010.’

Training centre and the early years

The contract to run the centre was put out to competitive tender last year, after the then education secretary Justine Greening announced that the centre would receive £26m to work with schools in challenging circumstances and help raise standards.

The tender document said that the DfE was ‘seeking to strengthen language and literacy outcomes in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). One strand of this reform, as set out in the government’s response to the primary assessment consultation (September 2017) is the reform of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP), which will include revising the Early Learning Goals to give a greater focus on supporting children in developing their vocabulary and core early literacy and language skills.

‘The Social Mobility Action Plan also sets out the importance of improving teaching in reception year to narrow the word gap between disadvantaged children and their peers so that all children have the building blocks to succeed at key stage 1 and beyond.

‘We believe it is important to co-ordinate our reforms relating to schools and early years settings, at both the national (DfE/Centre) and local (hub) levels. Therefore, English Hubs will have a key role in developing practice in reception year and key stage 1 in relation to language and literacy before and during this rollout.’

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