They claim analysis of multiple systematic reviews, experimental trials, and data from international assessment tests, such as Pisa, suggests that teaching reading in England may have been less successful since the adoption of the synthetic phonics approach rather than more.
According to the report, “The paper concludes that phonics and reading teaching in primary schools in England has changed significantly for the first time in modern history, and that compared to other English dominant regions England represents an outlier. The most robust research evidence, from randomised control trials with longitudinal designs, shows that the approach to phonics and reading teaching in England is not sufficiently underpinned by research evidence. It is recommended that national curriculum policy is changed and that the locus of political control over curriculum, pedagogy and assessment should be re-evaluated.”
The UCL researchers are among 250 signatories to a letter which has been sent to UK education secretary Nadhim Zahawi, asking the government to allow for a wider range of approaches to teaching reading, enabling teachers to use their own judgment about which approach works best for their particular students
In a YouTube video (https://youtu.be/bJImJ79JKNI), Professor Dominic Wyse, co-author of the study, said: “Teaching children to read and to make sense of texts is crucial to improving their life chances and is one of the most important tasks of primary schools and early-years settings. Although there are some strengths to England’s current approach to teaching reading, our new research shows that the government’s policy is uninformed because it is not underpinned by the latest robust evidence.”
“For the first time in more than 100 years we see that a balanced-instruction approach to the teaching of reading is no longer the norm in England. The majority of teachers are now reporting the more frequent use of the narrower synthetic phonics approach.
“Our view is that the system doesn’t give teachers enough flexibility to do what they think is best for their pupils, nor to encourage pupils to enjoy reading.”
Co-author Professor Alice Bradbury added, “Policy changes have led to changes in teaching, including more time being spent on phonics, the separation of phonics from other literacy activities, and a reliance on a small number of phonics schemes. This is an important shift in how children are taught to read, a shift which is not underpinned by the research evidence.”
The report is available at (https://bera-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/rev3.3314)