What the resource is:
The Independent review of the teaching of early reading presents an interpretation of the evidence that Sir Jim Rose and his team of five advisors collected during their review of early reading and synthetic phonics. The review addresses five aspects. The first aspect is the most significant: "what best practice should be expected in the teaching of early reading and synthetic phonics" (p. 1), because the other four aspects which cover the development of national curricula; children with literacy difficulties; leadership and management; and value for money, are all influenced by aspect one.
The aims of the resource:
The review makes recommendations for policy and practice in the teaching of reading in the early years foundation stage and key stage one.
Key findings or focus:
The review makes a series of recommendations on pages 70 to 72 related to the five aspects. The first recommendation for aspect one is that clear guidance should be given on speaking and listening. This is followed by the controversial recommendation that synthetic phonics should be taught "discretely" and as the "prime approach". Somewhat contradictorily, in view of the discrete nature of synthetic phonics, the next recommendation is that this phonic work should be set within a broad and rich language curriculum. It is over the balance of these two points that opinions have differed most sharply.
The quality, authority and credibility of the resource:
The teaching of reading is a subject that has attracted debate for more than 100 years. Although there is recognition that the 'reading wars', which featured extreme disagreements about top-down reading teaching versus bottom-up reading teaching, have largely been resolved through the recognition that both text-level and sub-word-level teaching is necessary, there are still disagreements about the ways that sub-word-level work should be contextualised during reading teaching.
The implementation, in England, of the National Literacy Strategy (NLS) from 1997 onwards marked an important moment in the modern era of reading debates in England. One area of controversy in the NLS Framework for Teaching from this period was the prescribed emphasis on phonics teaching. For example, it was specified that: "At Key Stage 1, there should be a strong and systematic emphasis on the teaching of phonics and other word level skills" (DfES, 1998, p.4). In spite of this renewed emphasis, criticisms that there was not enough phonics teaching of a particular kind continued to be aired, for example in a series of DfES summit meetings. The House of Commons Education and Skills Committee (2005) brought matters to a head in its report Teaching Children to Read. The Committee strongly urged government to "commission a large-scale comparative study, comparing the National Literacy Strategy with 'phonics fast and first' approaches" (p. 36). Instead, the Government commissioned consultant and ex-inspector Jim Rose to carry out a review of the teaching of early reading and synthetic phonics. In March 2006, the final report was published.
The authority of the Independent review of the teaching of early reading is derived from its political status. Many of its recommendations were implemented by government very soon after its publication:
- The Primary National Strategy literacy framework and guidance was changed;
- The Letters and Sounds resource was published;
- A panel was established to vet commercial phonics schemes to ensure that they meet the review recommendations;
- Teacher Training departments were asked by government to complete an audit of their reading teaching provision.
The quality of the review was strengthened by the use of five academic advisors. However, the credibility of its recommendations is something that is the subject of intense debate. Its credibility is considerably weakened by the lack of attention to the significant number of high quality research studies, available at the time of the review, that had investigated the most effective ways to teach children to read. In the section of the review outlining what best practice should comprise (pp. 15 - 28), the footnotes briefly refer to various forms of evidence such as the American National Reading Panel (NRP) reports, the review by Torgerson et al. (2006), and inspection evidence, but the only single study that is cited in the main section of the review is Johnston & Watson (2005). Instead of an analysis of studies of reading teaching, the academic rationale for the review recommendations is built on a cognitive psychological model called the "simple view of reading" which is covered in Appendix 1 of the review. Apart from a short critique of the previous NLS searchlights model of reading, it is not clear to what extent other models were considered as part of the review.
The implications for ITE tutors/mentors:
The implications for ITE tutors/mentors are many. The most significant implication is that there is very strong encouragement to teach reading through synthetic phonics. Nevertheless, it will be important to offer ITE students an evidence-informed perspective on the teaching of early reading, and to subject to recommendations of the Independent review to critical examination. The review could be used as the stimulus for discussion about the extent to which the recommendations are informed by evidence and whether they reflect best practice in the teaching of reading. This might then be followed by a focus on how trainees can engage with the guidance arising from this report in a way that enhances teacher professionalism and learning in this key area.
The relevance to ITE students - how and why it has importance:
The review is important because of the strong impact that it has had on policy and practice. The majority of ITE students are likely to find that they are expected to implement approaches to the teaching of early reading that are based on the recommendations of the review. Teacher trainees will need to be familiar with the key issues discussed within the review in order to critically evaluate whether its impact was justified and whether the outcomes are in the best interests of children.
These key issues extend beyond the emphasis on a prescribed approach to synthetic phonics teaching but also include
- how to balance phonics teaching with other aspects of reading teaching, such as engaging children's motivation, and reading comprehension;
- how significant difficulties in reading might be responded to effectively;
- the interrelationship between early reading, language development, and a rich curriculum focused upon developing children's abilities.
Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) (1998) The national literacy strategy framework for teaching. Sudbury: DfEE Publications
House of Commons Education and Skills Committee (2005) Teaching children to read: Eighth report of session 2004-2005 (Report, together with formal minutes, oral and written evidence). London: The Stationary Office Limited
Ellis, S. (2007) ‘Policy and research: Lessons from the Clackmannanshire synthetic phonics initiative', Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 7(3), 281-297
Goouch, K., & Lambirth, A. (2008) Understanding phonics and the teaching of reading: Critical perspectives. Maidenhead McGraw-Hill/Open University Press
Kershner, R., & Howard, J. (2006) The Psychology of Education Review 30(2), 1-60
Lewis, M., & Ellis, S. (Eds.) (2006) Phonics: Practice research and policy. London: Paul Chapman Publishing
Wyse, D., & Goswami, U. (2008) ‘Synthetic phonics and the teaching of reading', British Educational Research Journal, 34(6), 691-710
Wyse, D., & Styles, M. (2007) ‘Synthetic phonics and the teaching of reading: The debate surrounding England's ‘Rose report'', Literacy 47(1), 35-42