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Silencing the songbirds

Last week the government excluded the Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson’s ‘Songbirds’ book series from its list of approved texts for teaching reading, because she dared to say that not every child responds to the phonics learning method. Surely the government should be embracing every method that consistently succeeds to improve literacy skills, not punishing dissenters?

We’ve all been shocked by the statistic that a quarter of children in London leave primary school unable to read properly. We’re one of the most economically successful nations in the world with compulsory education for every child! Reading is an essential basic life skill and yet if a quarter of children are not able to read, something must be very, very wrong.

The government has ruled that schools must use the phonics method of teaching to read and although many children do not respond to this method, they still insist upon it. And a report published in July from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Education specifically calls for a multi-method literacy approach in schools.  Emma Plackett, Director at Reading Revival thinks that the government should be campaigning for literacy as a whole, not phonics.

“Our reading toolkit uses a far more simple method than phonics, and many of our customers are parents whose children are dyslexic, have special educational needs or are simply children with no other difficulty other than they are struggling with the complicated process of breaking down words in to phonetic sounds before reassembling them,” she explains.

“We are the last hope for children who can’t learn using the phonics method and we’ve succeeded where nothing else has worked. In fact, if a child has the ability to match basic patterns, we have never failed to teach every one of them to read with our toolkit.”

If Julia Donaldson, the Children’s Laureate and self professed “phonics fanatic” can see the sense in being open to a variety of methods that suit a variety of children’s needs, and if a parliamentary report agrees, then the government should be prepared to relax its rigid approach, as this is the only way that literacy will improve without leaving a large proportion of the population behind.