Press release

Funding for phonics teaching to improve children’s reading

Schools Minister announces matched funding scheme for phonics resources to drive up reading standards.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Schools Minister Nick Gibb today announced a matched funding scheme to help primary schools teach systematic synthetic phonics and drive up reading standards.

Primary schools will be able to claim up to £3,000, if they match that funding, to spend on materials which meet the Department for Education’s criteria for an effective phonics programme.

A list of approved resources - including phonics products for teachers and pupils and training for teachers - will be published by the Department by September although some products and training will be available by the end of June. Schools will decide which of the resources will help them to deliver high-quality phonics teaching for their pupils and will be able to buy products and training with the match-funding any time up to March 2013.

The Government is introducing a new phonics-based screening check for six-year-olds so teachers can identify children not at the expected reading level and in need of extra support.

In last year’s primary school tests 15 per cent of pupils did not reach the standard expected at Key Stage 1 and 16 per cent were below the standard expected at Key Stage 2. England has slipped down the international table for reading in primary schools. The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) of 10-year-olds saw England fall from third out of 35 countries in 2001 to 15th out of 40 countries in 2006.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said:

This match-funding will mean all schools with six-year-old pupils will be able to buy approved products and training to help them teach high-quality systematic synthetic phonics.

There is more to reading than phonics. But high-quality academic evidence from across the world - from Scotland and Australia to the National Reading Panel in the US - shows that the systematic teaching of synthetic phonics is the best way to teach literacy to all children, and especially those aged five to seven.

Learning to read is a fundamental part of a child’s education and vital to their prospects in secondary school, further and higher education, and work. The new phonics check will ensure that children who need extra help are given the support they need to enable them to enjoy a lifetime’s love of reading.

The check will be piloted in a representative sample of about 300 schools in June. Evidence from the pilot and other policy advice will be considered before the assessment arrangements are finalised.

How phonics works

Phonics focuses on sounds rather than, for example, having children try to recognise whole words.

In analytic phonics, words are broken down into their beginning and end parts, such as ‘str-‘ and ‘eet’, with an emphasis on ‘seeing’ the words and analogy with other words.

In synthetic phonics, children start by sequencing the individual sounds in words - for example, ‘s-t-r-ee-t’, with an emphasis on blending them together.

Once they have learned all these, they progress to reading books.

The ‘synthetic’ part comes from the word ‘synthesise’, meaning to assemble or blend together.

Children who learn using synthetic phonics are able to have a go at new words working from sound alone, whereas those using analytic phonics are more dependent on having prior knowledge of families of words.

Research evidence

In Clackmannanshire, Scotland, a seven-year study of the teaching of synthetic phonics to 300 children found they made more progress in reading and spelling than other children their age.

A 2005 Australian report, Teaching Reading, found:

The incontrovertible finding from the extensive body of local and international evidence-based literacy research is that for children during the early years of schooling (and subsequently if needed) to be able to link their knowledge of spoken language to their knowledge of written language, they must first master the alphabetic code - the system of grapheme-phoneme correspondences that link written words to their pronunciations. Because these are both foundational and essential skills for the development of competence in reading, writing and spelling, they must be taught explicitly, systematically, early and well.

The US National Reading Panel report of 2006 said:

Systematic synthetic phonics instruction had a positive and significant effect on disabled readers’ reading skills. These children improved substantially in their ability to read words and showed significant, albeit small, gains in their ability to process text as a result of systematic synthetic phonics instruction. This type of phonics instruction benefits both students with learning disabilities and low-achieving students who are not disabled. Moreover, systematic synthetic phonics instruction was significantly more effective in improving low socio-economic status (SES) children’s alphabetic knowledge and word reading skills than instructional approaches that were less focused on these initial reading skills… Across all grade levels, systematic phonics instruction improved the ability of good readers to spell.

Notes to editors

  1. All materials that schools can buy have to meet the Department’s criteria which can be found on the Department for Education’s website.
  2. The approved list of products and training will be in a catalogue to make it easier for schools to select products and training that best meet their requirements and the learning needs of their pupils. It will provide schools with a range of products and training that they can choose with the confidence that they all meet the criteria considered essential for good phonics teaching. They will be able to buy whole systematic synthetic phonics programmes or resources to supplement their existing programmes, teachers’ resources, materials for pupils, and training for individual teachers or all the staff. They will also be able to buy materials which will help children who need additional support in reading to catch up. The approved list will be published in September.
  3. The US National Reading Panel report published in 2006 is available online.
  4. The Schools White Paper, ‘The Importance of Teaching’, published in November 2010, made a commitment to ensure there is support available to every school for the teaching of systematic synthetic phonics, as the best method for teaching reading, and to provide funding for high-quality training and classroom teaching resources for all schools with Key Stage 1 pupils.

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Published 6 April 2011