Involving Parents – The Key to Improving Literacy Standards

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Just like its predecessor, the new coalition Government in the UK has recognised the value of synthetic phonics for teaching children to read. However, unless it also recognises the importance of involving parents, it will, like its predecessor, be unlikely to succeed in raising literacy standards.

It is not enough just to train teachers and teaching assistants to recognise the 44 sounds and 120 spelling choices of English, parents also need to be trained, so that they can help their children at home

Just like its predecessor, the new coalition Government in the UK has recognised the value of synthetic phonics for teaching children to read. However, unless it also recognises the importance of involving parents, it will, like its predecessor, be unlikely to succeed in raising literacy standards.

Successive governments have spent billions of pounds to raise literacy standards in state schools but in this year’s SATs tests the proportion of 11-year olds failing to reach level four, the expected standard in reading for their age, slipped for the second year running, with 16 per cent failing to reach this level compared to 14 per cent in 2009. And things are now so bad that earlier this year a Confederation of British Industry report found that 22 per cent of employers who employed school leavers were obliged to give them remedial training in literacy.

The new Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, and the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, both recognise the problem and believe that synthetic phonics is the clear winner when it comes to teaching children to read. They are committed to promoting its use in primary schools and in the autumn will outline plans for boosting its status.

However, as Alan Davies, the British Educational Psychologist who has pioneered the highly successful THRASS (Teaching Handwriting Reading And Spelling Skills) synthetic phonics programme, which is used in thousands of schools in many countries around the world, quickly points out, “It is not enough just to train teachers and teaching assistants to recognise the 44 sounds and 120 spelling choices of English, parents also need to be trained, so that they can help their children at home”.

International research consistently shows that, when it comes to developing a love of reading, children who are helped at home get a head start by learning from an early age that reading is fun and important. Parents are advised to share familiar books on a daily basis and to help children from as young as five ‘sound out’ words they cannot read using letter sounds rather than the names of letters; in other words, to use simple phonics. But many parents do not have the confidence to do this because they do not have a good understanding of the 44 sounds of English and their key spelling choices, and busy teachers do not have the time to teach them.

Alan Davies has therefore used his extensive national and international experience of working with teachers, parents and children over several decades to produce a range of resources to give parents a better understanding of English phonics and the confidence they need to help their children at home at minimal cost.

The most recent of these is the groundbreaking THRASS SOUND IT OUT software which many parents have already downloaded. SOUND IT OUT is focused entirely on the English Phonics Table and uses 120 keywords, each of which has a keygrapheme (key spelling choice), to give parents a better understanding of the 44 sounds and 120 key spelling choices of English, the building blocks to read and spell thousands of other words, and more confidence to help at home with words their children have difficulty reading.

The THRASS SING-A-LONG resources that use 44 songs that parents can sing with children to explain the 44 sounds (phonemes) and 120 main spelling choices (graphemes) of English in order to help them to read and spell are also very popular. The songs are real fun for both the parents and children, as they all have wonderful imaginative titles such as “The moon fell out of the sky”, “A great big gorilla” and “You don’t get pandas in Africa”, and really memorable tunes in different musical styles and dance rhythms.

Other THRASS resources popular with parents include interactive calendar charts, an email course and a whole range of videos showing THRASS in action with children of wide-ranging abilities in all kinds of schools in many different countries.    

Many schools that use THRASS have been involving parents for some time and have quickly seen the value of doing so. Oxley Park Primary School in Milton Keynes is a THRASS centre of excellence and has demonstrated the clear value of involving parents in helping their children learn to read right from the outset. Not only has the school held THRASS open days and provided training for parents at school, but it has also provided resources for new parents and the class teacher will visit them in their homes before the start of the new term to see how they are getting on.

The value of involving parents has also been demonstrated by many types of schools in a range of different locations across South Africa and Zimbabwe. These schools do a great deal to educate parents and they do it in a really fun way through THRASS workshops, SING-A-LONG concerts and open days. Next month, Alan Davies will speak about this, as a keynote speaker, at the South African Principals' Association (SAPA) annual conference in Cape Town.

Parents are a valuable resource that can be harnessed very cheaply. For the new coalition Government to do so would not only benefit children immensely but would also reduce the amount of money needed to be spent in schools teaching children to read. Alan Davies is therefore looking forward to meeting Education Ministers to explain how this might be done.

The THRASS website for schools and parents with easy access to a wide range of resources and support materials and extensive evidence of the widespread success of THRASS is at http://www.thrass.co.uk/teaching.htm

To find out more about the THRASS SOUND IT OUT software, visit http://www.thrass.co.uk/sio.htm

To find out more about the THRASS SING-A-LONG resources, visit http://www.thrass.co.uk/sing-a-long.htm

THRASS videos can also now be seen on YouTube in a dedicated Channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/THRASSUK

Issued by: THRASS UK News Media Centre http://www.thrass.co.uk/nm.htm

Mike Meade, Media Director, +44 1829 741413 Mob: +44 7970 151 738

Chris Griffiths, International Development, +30 266 203 1207 or +44 151 324 3458

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CHRIS GRIFFITHS
THRASS
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