Biggest Faux Pas, by a Minister of Education, in British Educational History

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Alan Davies, Chartered Educational Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, says, “It is madness to believe that you should start the literacy process by first doing only phonics. There is much that can be done before children start school, as I said live on Sky News (11.10 AM, Dec 1), ‘The best thing they (parents) can do, if they want to teach their child to be literate in English, is to put a three-year-old child on their knee and turn over the pages of a favourite book to anticipate the story and the pictures’. It is wrong to believe that synthetic phonics is the ‘best route to becoming skilled readers’, as stated in Jim’s report. In my view, Ruth Kelly and Jim Rose have both been misguided and Ruth Kelly has probably made the biggest faux pas, by a Minister of Education, in British Educational history.”

In an interview with Sky News, 6.12PM, Dec 1, British Minister of Education, Ruth Kelly, stated that, “We should have a systematic approach to teaching Synthetic Phonics, that should be taught first and foremost to all children, certainly by the age of five and then, yes, other strategies should come in after that to help and support those readers for whom a variety of methods is appropriate.”

However, British Synthetic Phonics expert, Alan Davies, Chartered Educational Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, strongly disagrees and believes that she, and her main adviser, Jim Rose, have been misguided.

Davies says, “It is madness to believe that you should start the literacy process by first doing only phonics. There is much that can be done before children start school, as I said live on Sky News (11.10 AM, Dec 1), ‘The best thing they (parents) can do, if they want to teach their child to be literate in English, is to put a three-year-old child on their knee and turn over the pages of a favourite book to anticipate the story and the pictures’. It is wrong to believe that synthetic phonics is the ‘best route to becoming skilled readers’, as stated in Jim’s report. In my view, Ruth Kelly and Jim Rose have both been misguided and Ruth Kelly has probably made the biggest faux pas, by a Minister of Education, in British Educational history.”

Davies believes that the British Government got it 100% right when they wrote in 1998, “All teachers know that pupils become successful readers by learning to use a range of strategies to get at the meaning of a text”.

Davies is the pioneer of the widely used Synthetic Phonics programme THRASS (Teaching Handwriting Reading And Spelling Skills), which is used in many schools in the UK, but more extensively in Australia and, over the last two years, Southern Africa. The Botswana Government aim to implement THRASS in all primary and secondary schools and the THRASS two-day training course is a compulsory module for trainee teachers at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and a growing number of other universities in South Africa.

David Cameron, new leader of the Conservative Party, the Government’s opposition, is meeting with Davies, at the House of Commons, to clarify the differences between the ‘Artificial Synthesis’ approach to Synthetic Phonics, as used in Clackmannanshire, Scotland, and the ‘Natural Synthesis’ approach of THRASS.

Davies believes that the main problem with the National Literacy Strategy has been the weak and inaccurate training for the 'Phonics Searchlight' – training for the 44 sounds and 120 key spelling-choices of English. In support of his case, he has produced a video, with the help of a 'Whistleblower NQT' (Newly Qualified Teacher) and many course evaluations from other NQTs e.g. "I've learnt more from the training in these two days, about phonics, than the three years that I've been at university" – viewable on http://www.thrass.co.uk/nm.htm

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Chris Griffiths
THRASS
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