Phonics Making a Positive Impact on Literacy

A new study suggests children taught to read using phonics techniques can achieve a reading age up to two years above their expected level.

Results from the study conducted by educational psychologist Marlynne Grant display high levels of progress and achievement from methods of systematic synthetic/blended phonics.

Introduced into UK schools in 2010, the method teaches children to read by recognizing and pronouncing sounds (phonemes) rather than individual letters.

The publication of Grant’s research coincides with this week’s government phonics screening check, to measure the progress of over 500,000 second grade (year one) students across the United Kingdom.

In this week’s check, pupils will be asked to decode a list of words, including a selection of nonsensical terms such as “voo” and “terg”. For the first time this year, teachers will not be informed of the grade boundaries in advance due to concerns that children may be given help.

Despite resistance to the check from teaching unions, the UK’s Department of Education (DfE) insist the check is a necessary move in improving literacy rates.

A spokesperson for the DfE said “We are determined to eradicate illiteracy – and our phonics check is a key part of this objective. In the past, far too many children left primary school unable to read properly and continued to struggle in secondary school and beyond”.

Grant’s research followed a group of 30 children, taught using phonics from age ages 4-7.

"The use of a systematic synthetic phonics programme was shown to give children a flying start with their reading, writing and spelling, it was effective for catch-up, it reduced special educational needs across the schools and it enabled higher numbers of children to transfer to their secondary schools well equipped to access the curriculum” explains Grant.

In 2013, Grant’s research found that on average, members of a third grade (year two) class of seven-year-olds were 28 months ahead of their expected reading age and 21 months above their age for spelling.

The 2011-13 study serves as a follow up to a larger body of research from 2004-07, which determined similar results.

Grant, a committee member of the Reading Reform Foundation concluded: “The message from this research is clear – if you are delivering systematic synthetic phonics in a rigorous way, these are the kind of results you can get”.