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Posts from the ‘For Teachers’ Category

What’s really stopping children from learning to read?

Corporate Guy is caught up in Red Tape









It’s not money, materials or our children’s ability. It’s stubbornness.

The statistic that one in five children leave school functionally illiterate is commonly quoted, and the finger of blame has been pointed in different directions. It’s a lack of funding for individual child support. It’s the huge time investment that teachers need to help each struggling child to read. It’s inferior reading materials that don’t inspire the child. It’s even been suggested that it’s the fault of the child who simply isn’t capable of reading fluently. However, in my thirty years of experience of teaching children to read I have noticed that none of those reasons are the ultimate barrier.

I have successfully taught every child in my care to learn to read, from three to 15 years of age, even those with considerable learning needs. I have done it in a fraction of the normal time taken, at a fraction of the cost, and the children are left enthused by the reading experience. So what’s the catch? Why aren’t all schools using this method?

Here’s the rub, and I believe it is the root of the literacy problems that dog Britain’s disappointing record. Brace yourself, because when I visit schools and speak to teachers or SENCOs and get to this point in my narrative, I see arms folding, lips pursing and sometimes even a flicker of fear on the faces in the room – and that’s no exaggeration. The fact is (deep breath) that I’m not using a government approved phonics method. This is enough to get me ejected from rooms, and why? There are two reasons that I find stop me from having access to children who needlessly get left behind by our failing system.

Firstly, the government directs schools to use the phonics method when teaching children to read, even if it doesn’t appear to suit 20% of children. I have brought this up with senior figures at the Department for Education and have been told that schools are free to make their own choices, and yet I have been told by several schools that they will be severely criticised if they use anything else, and there are clear written directives to use phonics. Recently one teacher told me that they didn’t want to risk providing me with testimonials. They would only talk off the record about their success at transforming children’s reading ability in a single term if I immediately promised not to identify them in any way. Why is the government more interested in the method of teaching rather than the results? This stubbornness creates a climate of fear rather than empowering teachers to do whatever is best for the child. At least if a school’s literacy statistics are poor the teacher can blame the government rather than themselves, but this does not put our children’s best interests at heart. Teachers should be celebrated for trying new things, not castigated.

Secondly, although I’ve met many truly admirable teachers, I have met teachers and SENCOs so stubborn it takes my breath away. They insist doing ‘more of the same’; forcing a phonics approach rather than something new with a child unable to read as they get further and further behind. I was once invited by the Head of Children’s Services of a London Council to contact a school that had only 40% of its children reaching the required literacy standards. I contacted the head teacher by telephone and email, offering my services for free with their most difficult students. He refused to speak to me and my emails were all ignored. I hadn’t even reached the hurdle of mentioning that my method wasn’t based on phonics! I’ve noticed that even when some people are doing things that do not work they’re unwilling to either ask for help or be open to try something new. I know I find it tough to admit when I’m doing something that isn’t working – that’s human nature. I also know that phonics works for thousands of children. But it’s heartbreaking that the children in that London school will leave school without learning to read due to the simple stubbornness of those in charge to accept some free assistance.

For years the debate has raged about the efficacy of different reading methods, and I have been caught up in that too because it’s a very emotive subject. But it’s time we all stopped stubbornly holding to one particular view and embrace whatever works for the child. We must all pull in the same direction of the end result, which is to get every one of our children to read before they leave school. In my experience that is an entirely achievable goal.

How schools could save thousands of pounds.









All schools have many demands on their money. All schools also have children who are not reaching the required level in reading skills and so need intervention programmes to remedy the situation. There are many available, most of which have an array levels and accessories that offer work on all aspects of reading in the hope that by the time the child moves up to secondary level, they will have caught up with their peers. Of course, these programmes do not come cheap, but schools will often divert precious financial resources to if the programmes achieve their aim.

And then there’s Reading Revival.

Just one toolkit will suffice to turn around all a schools’ students from non-reader to a reading age of 7 years in just one term. Impossible? We have plenty of parents and schools who have tried it and can hardly believe the results. There are no complicated workbooks or flashcards to grapple with and there’s no special training needed to use the toolkit. This is all you need to do:

  1. Learn 12 words by heart. (2 or 3 days)
  2. Sit with the child while they read the first book that consists only of those 12 words. (5 minutes)
  3. Sit with the child while they read the second book consisting of the first 12 words plus 8 new words, prompting or reminding the child where necessary. (With sessions of 5 – 10 minute per day: about 3 days.)
  4. Read each successive book, which add a few more new words to each book. (About 6 weeks to book 18)

At this stage a child will be able to read half of all the most used words in English and will have a solid reading base – even if they had zero reading skills to start with.

Then, if necessary, Toolkit 2, Books 19-36 will take a child on to complete reading fluency in a further term.

The toolkits work just as well for children with special educational needs because they are so easy for the child to understand. And the best bit for schools’ limited budgets? The toolkits only cost £60 each. Imagine turning round all your struggling readers and being able to divert all the money earmarked for that to other pressing things on your ‘to do’ list.

It can’t be done any quicker – or cheaper – than this. Just try it. You’ll be as amazed as all the other schools who are using the Reading Revival method.

Teachers taking the rap for government literacy failings

As yet more depressing statistics emerge about children who can’t achieve basic standards of literacy, it’s time to give teachers the tools they need in their fight to help children achieve their potential.

I’m not a teacher, but I sympathise with them. How a teacher’s heart must sink as wave after wave of bad press threatens to engulf the job they feel passionately about, consigning the profession they joined with high hopes of making a difference to the collective rubbish bin for supposedly letting our children down.

This week, the government’s school league tables show that three-quarters of children in England who make a slow start in the “Three Rs” at primary school fail to catch up by the time they leave.

Teachers then have to suffer the mortification as well meaning charities and government initiatives ‘ride to the rescue’ to save children by taking matters in to their own hands. This demoralises the teachers and calls their abilities into question.

As the founder of a company that produces a reading toolkit created by a teacher that consistently brings a reluctant reader to a level of reading competency in a matter of a term or so that would normally take at least 18 months at school, you’d think we’d be coining it in with such a demand for our services. Sadly this is not the case, and it’s down to a crucial design element that is both the beauty of the scheme and the target of government literacy discrimination.

What’s this pivotal issue? It does not use the synthetic phonics method insisted on by the government, and you pay a price when you dare to express doubt in this hallowed area.  Last week Julia Donaldson, the Gruffalo author had the audacity to suggest that one reading method does not suit every child and found her books excluded from the government recommended reading list.

This tide of negative literacy statistics is not down to poor teaching. We are being let down by the government’s heavy handedness in freezing out methods that should be available to teachers. If teachers will join the reading book authors and bring about the astounding effects that I’ve seen many times, then perhaps the government will finally give teachers the credit they deserve.



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.

A lifeline for dyslexic reading help?

A new toolkit of reading books is making a difference to how dyslexic children learn to read, and recently released research into the brain may be showing why it is succeeding to such a great extent.

Dyslexia is a condition that remains shrouded in mystery, and yet neuroscientists are continuing to make small progressive steps to understand these differences in the brain.

Dr Laurie Glezer, at the Georgetown University Medical Centre has been leading a research project into how the brain processes words. When we read, our brains are instantly able to recognise words because we have stored them in a ‘visual dictionary’, and one camp of neuroscientists believes that we also pick up the sound of the word (phonology) at the same time.

However, Dr Glezer’s teams have been monitoring brain activity whilst the reading activity takes place, and their findings clearly suggest that all we use is the visual information of a word and not the sounds. These findings could help in understanding and treating dyslexia.

Emma Plackett and Helena Rogers of Reading Revival Ltd have developed a reading toolkit that they claim has consistently helped dyslexic children learn to read when everything else schools had used had failed. Interestingly, it does not rely on a phonics approach, but encourages children to build a ‘visual dictionary’ of words.

This is achieved with carefully crafted reading books for children, blending plenty of practice with words already learned with a carefully managed sprinkling of new words to increase reading confidence. Not only that, but they have consistently show that a child with reading difficulties can reach a reading age of no ability to that of approximately a seven year old in around one to two terms.

This new research is now shedding light on why it is essential to take an open-minded approach when deciding how to help a child to reading fluency. If this simple toolkit can make such a difference using a whole word methodology, and if it maximises the brain’s natural ability, we should be embracing any way that helps children achieve their learning potential.

Emma Plackett

Time for a truce

The whole word versus phonics debate over the best way to teach a child to read has raged for many years now. However, the one thing we do all agree on is that we want children to learn as confidently and enjoyably as possible, so why don’t we lay down our weapons and collaborate?

I’ll admit this sounds like a naïve dream. On one side we have those who passionately advocate a phonics based approach, breaking down the words into sounds, teaching these and once the child has learned the sounds, constructing words using these phonics building blocks.

In the other corner we have those who insist that a whole word approach is most effective, teaching children to recognise words by sight, because many English words don’t follow phonetic rules. We snipe at each other, citing examples of when our preferred method has triumphed as evidence to why the other method should not be used.

And never the twain shall meet.

But what if we did meet in the middle? Let’s start with what we know. We’ve all got examples of when our method works, so it stands to reason that there must be merit in both the methods. Also, when you look at it, both methods aren’t exactly poles apart because they both require children to memorise chunks of letters, albeit in sound chunks or word chunks.

So why can’t we be allies? If our method works with a child, then great. If the child doesn’t respond in the way we’d hope, rather than do more of the same, why don’t we test-drive another method? We don’t have to fight exclusively for one side.

Let’s pride ourselves on being experts in teaching children to read, and not confine ourselves and our children to one camp or another.

Just think how far we could move literacy forward with all the tools available at our disposal. I’m game if you are?