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Complainant Name:
Elizabeth Nonweiler

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: Times Educational Supplement


Elizabeth Nonweiler complained that an article reporting on an Ofsted report on reading was inaccurate and misleading when it suggested that the report was broadly critical of the teaching of synthetic phonics.


The complaint was resolved when the PCC negotiated the publication of the following clarification:

The juxtaposition of the headline "Read our lips, says Ofsted: phonics is not a panacea" to the subheading "'Pick-and-mix' approach praised in report" (November 19) may have given the impression that Ofsted's "Reading by Six" report praised schools for mixing phonics with other approaches. As the article stated, Ofsted actually praised five schools for mixing schemes which all involved phonics.

The article also noted that Ofsted felt phonics was key to teaching reading. We have been asked to add that the criticisms of phonics referred to in the headline only amounted to a single sentence in the 45 page report, and we are happy to note this.

The newspaper also published the following letter from the complainant:

Ofsted Report Praises Schools that Use Synthetic Phonics

An article reporting on the Ofsted report, "Reading by six: how the best schools do it", ("Read our lips, says Ofsted: phonics is not a panacea," 19/11/2010) gave the impression that the report was critical of the teaching of synthetic phonics, in which children are taught how sounds are represented by letters and how to blend sounds to read words.

In fact, the report strongly promotes adherence to synthetic phonics in primary schools, finding that "the diligent, concentrated and systematic teaching of phonics is central to the success of all the schools that achieve high reading standards in Key Stage 1".

It draws from the practice of twelve outstanding schools in different parts of England to illuminate what works in teaching children to read. The schools represent a diverse range of communities and use various synthetic phonics programmes, but they have striking features in common. "They are passionate in their belief that every child can learn to read ... Rigorous, intensive and systematic phonics teaching underpins reading, spelling and writing."

The report emphasises the importance of training and the commitment of head teachers and reading managers to assure quality and drive improvement.

It counters the myth that good synthetic phonics teaching encourages a narrow and exclusive literacy curriculum. All the schools emphasised speaking and listening skills, with examples of learning new vocabulary across the curriculum, speaking in sentences, listening to teachers reading high-quality books, learning how books and stories work and role play. As their reading and writing skills developed, children were given opportunities to apply their phonic skills more widely.

It is clear throughout the report that children are enthusiastic about learning to read when synthetic phonics is well taught. At Trenance Infant school, five and six year olds, seeing a map of the imaginary kingdom of Narnia, were heard "reading the names of the places aloud, that is, sounding out each letter and then blending the sounds together to read the unknown words ... entirely independently and without prompting from adults". It was found that consistent teaching has "a substantial impact on eliminating behavioural problems because the pupils are so engaged". In one school two boys have extra lessons with a teaching assistant. When they are able to blend the sounds to read several short sentences, "their delight in their achievements is palpable".

"The best primary schools in England teach virtually every child to read regardless of the social and economic circumstances," says the report. "If some schools can do this, it should be a moral imperative for all primary schools."

Elizabeth Nonweiler, Teach to Read, Berkshire

Date Published: 04/03/2011

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