When Anne was invited to provide evidence to support her petition, Dr Sarah McGeown also provided research-informed evidence. Dr McGeown now writes about the official closing of Anne's petition in the TES:
Improving literacy through research-informed reading instruction
The closure of a Scottish parliamentary petition leaves questions about use of synthetic phonics in schools, says Dr Sarah McGeown
https://www.tes.com/magazine/analysis/g ... nstruction
It's looking like those in charge of guidance for the teaching profession (politicians and selected advisors) are disregarding both the literacy practitioner specialist and the researcher informed by the international inquiries into the teaching of reading and international settled science about how best to teach reading.
In August 2017, a petition lodged by Anne Glennie - a literacy consultant, publisher and former primary teacher - was submitted, with the title "Improving literacy standards in schools through research-informed reading instruction".
However, last week, on 4 May 2022, the petition was closed by the Scottish Parliament's Education, Children and Young People Committee.
The past two-and-a-half years have been extraordinary in Scottish education, and Covid-19 education recovery is now a priority. This includes optimally supporting children's literacy, learning and reducing the inequalities that have been amplified as a result of the pandemic.
In this context, the closing of petition PE01668 could not have come at a worse time. It represented a real opportunity to improve children's literacy skills and experiences, and to improve equity.
At present, there is considerable variation in provision across Scottish initial teacher education in terms of access to knowledge about research-informed reading instruction. Furthermore, there is a lack of guidance and support for experienced teachers to engage in continuing professional learning to support their practice.
The petition was lodged to ensure all teachers had access to the latest scientific research, specifically systematic synthetic phonics: an approach to initial reading instruction, which explicitly teaches children the relationship between letters and sounds and encourages children to blend letter-sound correspondences to read new words.
There is a considerable body of research in support of systematic phonics, with synthetic approaches offering clear advantages in terms of optimising the order of letter sounds taught (for a review see Castles et al, 2018).
The importance of getting it right from the beginning cannot be understated. Children who become independent and successful readers early on are more likely to be motivated to read, enjoy reading and read frequently (Toste et al, 2020; van Bergen et al, 2018) and have better reading skills throughout school and later in life (Castles et al, 2018). Therefore, providing children with an optimal start in their journey as readers is essential.
This petition was closed, in my opinion, as a result of a misunderstanding of what it represented. Firstly, the petition did not request a single mandated approach to the teaching of reading across Scottish primary schools. Instead, it requested that all new and experienced teachers had access to research (specifically the contribution that psychological science has made to understanding how children learn to read) to be able to apply this in their own classroom contexts.
Secondly, the idea that "all children learn differently" and that, therefore, teachers should use a variety of approaches to teach reading, unfortunately, often disadvantages the very children that this argument is made to support.
It is difficult to know what could or should happen next with the priorities of this petition, but I believe that everyone working in Scottish education shares the same goal. We are all committed to improving children's literacy experiences and outcomes, to ensuring children get off to the best possible start in their reading, and that they feel positive, confident and successful as readers.
We need to find better ways to communicate with each other so that we can work collectively to achieve these goals, drawing upon the breadth of research and pedagogical knowledge available to us - the cost of poor communication and misunderstanding is just too high.
Dr Sarah McGeown is a senior lecturer in developmental psychology based in Moray House School of Education and Sport, at the University of Edinburgh
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