Children taught to read using phonics are 2 years ahead of those who learn by the ‘look and say’ whole language approach, according to a small new study.
Phonics techniques – blending common sounds into words – have been widely used in schools in England since 2010.
The research followed a single class of 30 children who used the phonics method from reception until the end of year 2 in primary school, between 2010 and 2013.
By the end of year 2, the class of 7-year-olds were on average 28 months ahead of their chronological age for reading and 21 months above their age for spelling.
“The use of a systematic synthetic phonics programme was shown to give children a flying start with their reading, writing and spelling,” the study’s author, educational psychologist Marlynne Grant, said.
“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.
“Children taught in this way pick up reading quickly. They become enthusiastic and confident in their reading and are more able and willing to engage in the world of reading around them.”
However, the new phonics approach has its critics, with some experts and parents saying that phonics does not work for all children. Some children with dyslexia or processing challenges may find the phonics method harder than memorising whole words.
The study neatly coincides with a national phonics screening check this week for 500,000 year 1 children in state primary schools in England. The aim is to understand the progress of phonics teaching since its wide introduction in 2010. When this check was first announced, many top children’s authors complained about it, including Michael Rosen.
A Department for Education spokesman 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.”