Since 2005, every child in state education has been taught to decode words through the teaching of phonics, starting in Reception and culminating in a (rather obscure) statutory ‘screening check’ at the end of Year One. In short, children in England are taught the 44 phonemes (sounds) in two years and then tested at the end of it. So, does it work? What are the benefits and negatives of this reading strategy? Bella Learning weighs up the pros and cons…

Phonics as a phriend…

  • Evidence suggests that phonics is the most successful way to help children learn to decode words – even those with needs such as dyslexia.
  • Once pupils know the 44 phonemes and main exception (tricky) words, it is thought that they should be able to access 95% of words they encounter.
  • Pupils who have learnt to read via phonics are more adept at tackling and pronouncing unknown words correctly, even in adulthood.
  • Phonics offers children a secure set of rules that they can apply to their spelling.

Phonics as a pho…

  • Phonics is a strategy for decoding rather than understanding and some (like Michael Rosen) believe that this hinders comprehension.
  • For some pupils, this ‘mathematical’ approach to reading can take the joy out of books and might foster a negative attitude towards reading.
  • There are concerns that children get ‘hooked on phonics’ and consequently don’t use any of the other important methods when reading like using context, sentence structure, word recognition and picture prompts.
  • Current parents weren’t taught to read in this way, so it can make reading at home confusing for the child and frustrating for the parent.

Like most things in education, a combination is most likely the answer. As a teacher, I have seen how phonics can really help a child access texts but it is vital that the teacher or parent is also creating an enthusiasm about reading, developing comprehension skills simultaneously and showing the pupil that all these sounds have a purpose.

If you are interested in learning more about phonics and want to find out how to support your child, I’m running a Zoom workshop on Monday 1st March at 8pm. Suitable for parents of children who starting school in September, children in reception and in year 1. Details here.

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