Press release

Phonics funding: thousands of schools sign up

Thousands of primary schools have already signed up to spend more than £7.7 million on new phonics products and training to drive up their pupils’ standards of reading, new Department for Education figures show today.

Gibb: Phonics funding for schools to raise reading standards

So far 3,211 schools have taken advantage of the Government’s match-funding scheme to buy the products. The products include a range of teaching resources, including books, software and games. Additionally, 987 schools have booked phonics training for their staff (at a total spend of £1.3 million) to improve their teaching of phonics, the method internationally proven to improve reading, especially among younger children.

The scheme went ‘live’ in September last year with the publication of the phonics catalogue of approved products and services. Under the scheme, any state-funded school with Key Stage 1 pupils - including Academies and Free Schools - can claim up to £3,000 to buy products and training until March 2013.

Schools have signed up to spend £1.66 million on products in the past month alone. The number of schools that have booked phonics training has almost doubled in the same period.

But the figures present a mixed picture.

Some local authorities - Thurrock, Rochdale, Walsall, Lincolnshire, Windsor and Maidenhead, Plymouth, and Sutton - are leading the way. More than one in three of their schools have already signed up for products. In others, a high number of schools have booked training so their staff can teach phonics as effectively as possible.

Two local authorities with reading rates well below the national average at Key Stage 2 - Derby and Coventry - are also among those that have a high proportion of their schools taking advantage of the scheme.

But in other areas, including where there is a higher than average proportion of 11-year-olds failing to reach the expected level in reading, there has so far been a low level of take-up of products. These include Central Bedfordshire, Bedford, Hull, Medway, Portsmouth, Luton and Sheffield. And in 20 local authorities, not a single school has booked training for their staff yet.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said:

This is a chance for schools to gain extra funding to improve reading standards so I am naturally concerned at the number of areas where few schools have not yet taken the opportunity to do so.

The money is available until March next year so there is still time to claim it.

But every week that goes by is another week that children are missing out on the best possible teaching of reading.

This is an open invitation to all schools to improve the way they teach systematic synthetic phonics - the tried and tested method of improving the reading of all our children, especially the weakest.

Background information

Table 1: Lowest proportion of schools claiming products in LAs with fewer than 82 per cent of 11-year-olds getting to the expected level or above in reading. The national average is 84 per cent.

Local authority

% of 11-year-olds

reaching the expected

level in reading

No. of schools which

have bought phonics products

% of schools which

have bought phonics products

No. of schools

reported to have booked

phonics training

Medway 79 4 of 67 6 4
Luton 80 3 of 43 7 3
Portsmouth 80 3 of 39 8 1
Bedford 80 5 of 57 9 10
Central Bedfordshire 77 9 of 102 9 12
Sheffield 80 14 of 124 11 13
Suffolk 81 30 of 257 12 1
Kingston Upon Hull 79 10 of 76 13 1
Norfolk 81 44 of 320 14 11
Slough 81 4 of 28 14 2

Table 2: Highest proportion of schools claiming products in LAs with fewer than 82 per cent of 11-year-olds getting to the expected level or above in reading. The national average is 84 per cent.

Local authority

% of 11-year-olds

reaching the expected

level in reading

No. of schools which

have bought phonics products

% of schools which

have bought phonics products

No. of schools

reported to have booked

phonics training

Thurrock 81 18 of 39 46 6
Plymouth 80 26 of 72 36 3
Coventry 81 28 of 88 32 8
Derby 78 19 of 62 31 2
Bristol 81 20 of 100 29 0
Peterborough 80 15 of 56 27 1
Leicester 80 19 of 76 25 8
Bradford 80 40 of 160 25 22
Wolverhampton 81 18 of 74 24 3
Blackpool 81 8 of 34 24 2

A fuller breakdown can be obtained from the press office at the Department for Education.

Statistics are correct as of 11 January 2012.

National statistics

The latest national statistics show that:

  • More than 80,000 seven-year-olds can read no better than a five-year-old.
  • One in 10 11-year-old boys can read no better than a seven-year-old.
  • The percentage of both seven-year-olds and 11-year-olds who met the expected level has flat-lined over the last five years.
  • One in three six-year-olds reached the expected level in the pilot of the phonics check in the summer of 2011.
  • England is rated 25th in the world for reading, according to the 2009 PISA reading study - down from seventh nine years ago.
  • Our 15-year-olds are judged by PISA to be 18 months behind those in Shanghai and at least six months behind those in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
  • England was third in the PIRLS international reading tables in 2001. In the most recent 2006 survey, England was 16th.

How phonics works

Phonics teaches children how to:

  • Recognise the sounds that each individual letter makes;
  • Identify the sounds that different combinations of letters make - such as “sh” or “oo”; and blend these sounds together to make a word.
  • Children can then use this knowledge to ‘de-code’ new words that they see. This is the first important step in learning to read.

Research shows that when phonics is taught in a structured way - starting with the easiest sounds, progressing through to the most complex - that it is the most effective way of teaching young children to read. It is particularly helpful for children aged five to seven.

Almost all children who have good teaching of phonics will learn the skills they need to tackle new words. They go on to read any kind of text. Most importantly, they will read for enjoyment.

They also tend to read more accurately than those taught using other methods, such as ‘look and say’. This includes children who find learning to read difficult, for example those who have dyslexia.

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.

In Australia, the committee for the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy produced the report ‘Teaching Reading’ (2005). The committee concluded:

‘The evidence is clear, whether from research, good practice observed in schools, advice from submissions to the Inquiry, consultations […] that direct systematic instruction in phonics during the early years of schooling is an essential foundation for teaching children to read. …systematic phonics instruction is critical if children are to be taught to read well, whether or not they experience reading difficulties. […] Moreover, where there is unsystematic or no phonics instruction, children’s literacy progress is significantly impeded, inhibiting their initial and subsequent growth in reading accuracy, fluency, writing, spelling and comprehension.’

The US National Reading Panel was set up in 2006 to assess the effectiveness of the different approaches used to teach children to read. It was the most comprehensive and detailed survey of this topic ever produced. It 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.’

It is important to note that research emphasises the importance of phonics teaching being embedded in a language rich curriculum.

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 Educations’s website.
  2. The approved list of products and training is 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 provides 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 can 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 can also buy materials which will help children who need additional support in reading to catch up. The catalogue is available on the Pro5 website.
  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.

Enquiries

Help us improve GOV.UK

Please don't include any personal or financial information, for example your National Insurance or credit card numbers.