I’ve produced a short video in response to the Department for Education’s call for evidence regarding ‘phonics’. I point out that surely it should not still be ‘chance’ as to the content and quality of reading instruction in our schools as we have long since had evidence to show the efficacy of teaching phonics systematically and explicitly.

One of my concerns is that research findings flag up the dangers of teaching multi-cueing guessing strategies which amount to guessing unknown words from pictures, initial letters and context clues and yet it is looking as if many teachers still resort to these types of strategies either because they believe in them or are not fully aware of their dangers. When the pictures disappear and new words are unknown to the reader, however, there is only ‘phonics’ to lift the words off the page even for adult readers.

In England, official surveys show that teachers do not share a common understanding of how best to teach reading and although all schools do teach phonics, this is to different degrees of effectiveness. The Year One Phonics Screening Check statutory in England – although unpopular with many – is showing that teaching effectiveness can increase year on year. Results have risen from the original pilot in 2011 of 32% of the children on average reaching or exceeding the benchmark of 32 out of 40 words read correctly followed by 58% (in 2012), then 69% (in 2013), then 74% (in 2014). In a number of schools with various profiles, 100% of the children have reached or exceeded the benchmark.

Debbie Hepplewhite, Phonics International