Worrying article: Driver Youth Trust - suggesting a 'focus on phonics' excludes children with special needs

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Worrying article: Driver Youth Trust - suggesting a 'focus on phonics' excludes children with special needs

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Thu Mar 23, 2017 11:25 am

I've just read the most worrying article via the Times Educational Supplement (TES) regarding a 'focus on phonics' excluding special needs children!

I've left a comment accordingly.

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/br ... cy-charity

Focus on phonics excludes SEND children from the discussion on literacy, charity warns

Helen Ward
23rd March 2017

We need policies and research that lead the way for children who face the greatest disadvantage – being ignored, says director the Driver Youth Trust
Children with special educational needs and disabilities are being left out of the discussion on how to improve literacy, according to a new report published today.

The report, "Through the Looking Glass", from the Driver Youth Trust, a literacy charity specialising in dyslexia, says the focus on phonics has shut down discussion on alternatives for those children for whom phonics proves ineffective.

“Phonics does not work for every learner,” the report states. “This needs to be accepted and alternative strategies for accessing literacy addressed, recognising that failure to pass a phonics test at age 5 or 6 does not mean a learner is destined for failure.”

The phonics test is taken by pupils at the end of Year 1. Children must read 40 words, including 20 non-words, aloud to their teacher, who marks the test. To reach the phonics standard, children must read 32 words correctly. In 2016, just 42 per cent of children with SEND reached the phonics standard, compared with 86 per cent of children without SEND.

The report adds that the term “universal provision” too often means provision for those children who can catch up – and ignores those with SEND, or sidelines them as the concern of specialist staff.

'What about the children who don't learn to read?'
“In the looking-glass world, we see oversimplified messages that suggest all children can learn to read if they just receive a good quality education, are read to by their parents and develop a love for reading,” Christopher Rossiter, author of the report and director of trust, says.

“Yet the evidence is clear – some children continue to fail to learn to read, write and spell to the expected standard. These children go on to be the 6 million adults in the UK who are functionally illiterate, which means they can’t read a tin of baked beans or the instructions on a packet of pills.

“These children need to be part of the agenda. We need policies and research that lead the way for children who face the greatest disadvantage; that is being ignored.”

"Through the Looking Glass" examines the focus of 21 strategies, policies and initiatives on literacy from organisations including Ofsted, the Department for Education and Save the Children.

It says that, while all the strategies had at heart “a commendable desire to improve literacy”, there was a confusion over which children are the true focus of literacy improvement, a limited discussion of SEND and a supposition that family background is the reason for a failure to progress rather than the school system.

“'Universal' needs to mean for everyone, it needs to be inclusive, and only then will we see a change in both what we understand to be literacy and in the achievements of our children and young people,” the report concludes.

The 21 documents analysed were published by: Ofsted, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education, the Department for Education, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, the Sutton Trust, the Education Policy Institute, the Education Foundation, the National Literacy Forum, Beanstalk, the World Literacy Foundation, the National Literacy Trust and Save the Children.

And here is the comment I left. Note that I had already written about my concerns regarding guidance and free documents by various organisations associated with special needs via a blog I started quite recently. It is quite a coincidence, then, that Helen Ward's article is about the Driver Youth Trust criticising the 'focus on phonics'!

I commented:

I recently flagged up that the Driver Youth Trust was publishing via the internet free guidance documents based on flawed reading strategies - the kind of multi-cueing guessing-words strategies that will fail the slowest and most disadvantage children the most! The Driver Youth Trust is also claiming the high results in the Year One phonics check in the Ark schools - with no mention of the Read Write Inc programme which is favoured in those schools. I find it extraordinary, too, that this piece is suggesting that some children need something different from phonics to become literate. Year on year, more and more schools are teaching phonics more effectively to the point of all, or virtually all, their children being able to decode real and pseudo-words in the phonics check. This indicates that teaching content and quality makes a difference as more teachers improve their phonics provision.

Would Chris Rossiter suggest that those 1,200+ schools achieving 95% to 100% of their children reaching or exceeding the 32 out of 40 benchmark in the phonics check simply don't get children with dyslexic tendencies or individual learning difficulties?

This is a worrying article for someone involved with SEND.

See here for my blog posting about this issue of continued promotion of flawed strategies, contra to the research on reading, being promoted by organisations often associated with special needs which includes mention of the Driver Youth Trust organisation:

https://phonicsintervention.org/.../big ... slexia.../

My apologies, I got the figure of 1,200+ schools slightly wrong, here is the DfE report with the exact figures:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/s ... 1_2016.pdf

School level figures are not published for phonics, but 1138 schools have at least 95% of the pupils achieving the phonics standard in year 1 in 2016 compared with 753 schools in 2015 and 611 in 2014.
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Re: Worrying article suggesting a 'focus on phonics' excludes children with special needs

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Thu Mar 23, 2017 11:36 am

Of course 'universal' should mean literacy for all.

And a 'focus on phonics' with the introduction of the statutory Year One Phonics Screening Check in 2012 in England is making a difference to a lot of children in a lot of schools getting off to a much better start with reading than in previous years when the emphasis was weaker on phonics with much perpetuation of multi-cueing word-guessing - contra to the research findings on reading.

To be fair, I haven't read the Driver Youth Trust report so I must get on and do that to see it in its entirety.

It is very common for TES journalists to pounce on anti-phonics commentary. And, to neglect to include someone invited to respond to give a different reflection on the status quo.
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Re: Worrying article suggesting a 'focus on phonics' excludes children with special needs

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Thu Mar 23, 2017 11:38 am

I've also taken England's Education Endowment Foundation to task via my blog for its very flawed description of 'Phonics' on its site and, again, a very flawed understanding of older, struggling readers:

https://phonicsintervention.org/2017/01 ... -projects/
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Re: Worrying article suggesting a 'focus on phonics' excludes children with special needs

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Thu Mar 23, 2017 11:43 am

How can a year-on-year increase in phonics results mean more children are being let down with regard to becoming literate?

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Re: Worrying article suggesting a 'focus on phonics' excludes children with special needs

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Thu Mar 23, 2017 11:52 am

I'm so upset that SEND-based organisations don't get on board fully with the research and the importance of high-quality phonics teaching that I've added another comment!

This battle has gone on long enough - and if the very organisations who advocate for the most disadvantaged children in our world don't get on board fully with phonics, it is a very, very poor show.

So, I've added this comment:

I've now flagged up Helen's piece via the International Foundation for Effective Reading Instruction here:


You can also read how Australia (where mixed methods or 'whole language' dominates with abysmal literacy results) may be on the verge of introducing a formal phonics check in light of improvements to phonics teaching effectiveness in England, see here:


It is a travesty for SEND-based organisations to keep perpetuating the myth that phonics provision is not for all, and that a focus on it is not good for all. Nonsense.
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Re: Worrying article suggesting a 'focus on phonics' excludes children with special needs

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Thu Mar 23, 2017 12:42 pm

Susan Godsland sent me the link to the Driver Youth Trust report with this comment:

See page 6 of this report. The levels on the pyramid diagram are completely wrong. The top level needs to be tiny as it represents 2-3% of children at most and these children are unlikely to be in mainstream schools.

Apparently level 2 children can be helped simply by giving them extra reading practice at home and by volunteers - probably of the same Whole Language texts that caused them problems in the first place!

https://www.docdroid.net/YzTmu48/dyt-lo ... tml#page=5
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Re: Worrying article suggesting a 'focus on phonics' excludes children with special needs

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Thu Mar 23, 2017 2:08 pm

This is a piece in SchoolsWeek written by Chris Rossiter himself:

http://schoolsweek.co.uk/send-learners- ... om-policy/

SEND learners are airbrushed from education policy

Influential literacy reports by leading think tanks and charities have ignored the thousands of children who will never catch up in reading and writing but who can still achieve a full and rounded education, says Chris Rossiter

“Dyslexia isn’t even a thing”; “exam extra time is a middle class purchase”; “the dyslexia industry selling specialist courses”. These are all things that I have heard recently, in my role as the Director of the Driver Youth Trust. From teachers.

Whether or not we agree with the label of dyslexia; whether we recognise the condition or not, surely we all know that there is a significant group of children – with dyslexia or other impairments – who will never achieve the same level of literacy as their peers without significant specialist support. And that there are some young people who – even with all the support in the world – will never come anywhere near the arbitrary GCSE score that makes them ‘literate’ in the eyes of the world (and how much more arbitrary is that score with this year’s grade changes).

But we cannot blame teachers – the leading think tanks and others who form and frame policy are writing glowing and glossy pieces on achieving 100% literacy that airbrush out those who cannot be saved by a ‘love of reading’ or poor fathers reading to their children.

Our latest report, Through the Looking Glass, adds weight to the concern that learners with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND), are being airbrushed from education thinking.

Glossy pieces airbrush out those who cannot be saved by poor fathers reading to their children
We analysed 21 influential reports on achieving literacy standards for all children, and showed that leading think tanks and charities have ignored these pupils – the majority of whom are educated in mainstream schools. Read on Get on – run by Save the Children – sets recommendations for 100% of 11 year olds reading well by 2025, without once mentioning dyslexia, and suggests the target can be achieved with “some additional tailored help for the poorest pupils and extra help in the early years”.

Claims from organisations such as Ofsted, the Sutton Trust, Education Policy Institute, the Fair Education Alliance and the Department for Education amongst others, reported since 2010, provide a sanitized image of education and schools. In some instances, SEND pupils simply do not feature and where they do, they are identified in the main as a homogenous group. Reports talk of a vision for 100% literacy but – when you look a little closer – only, it seems, for those children where the solutions are simple: more reading with parents or catch-up programmes.

Of course investment in the early years matters. And the focus that Pupil Premium puts on social and financial ‘disadvantage’ is welcome. But these reports paint a picture where either a child can catch up easily, or they are in a special school with serious difficulties and literacy doesn’t matter. These are in themselves both false positons and they ignore the thousands of children who will never catch up in reading and writing but who can still achieve a full and rounded education.

The notion of specialist input – of educational psychologists, speech and language therapists and the dyslexia teachers – is all but invisible in these reports.

This reflects the reality on the ground, where schools and parents report waits of over a term – some much more – for referral to a specialist for assessments and support. As budgets are getting tighter, are these thought leaders colluding with a system that plays the numbers game? In following their recommendations, we would be focusing resources on the those that can catch up. These are the children ‘worth more’ in the progress 8 scores and league tables. Do these reports make it easier to exclude those who might cost a school more in cash or position?

Consider, for example, Education Policy Institute’s Annual Report 2016. It claimed overall levels of attainment are rising in both primary and secondary settings, only to then explicitly state: ‘The analysis excludes special schools and Pupil Referral Units’; although there are 199 mentions of disadvantage.

Of course this is not an either/or argument. Focus on social disadvantage is not wrong. Catch-up initiatives are not wrong. Much that benefits children on pupil premium in terms of reading and writing will help most children with SEND. However, some children do need specialist help. Those with significant learning disabilities. Those who need augmentative and alternative communication.

In Through the Looking Glass we make practical recommendations for change: including a review of all government literacy strategies to ensure they have realistic goals for all learners, including those with SEND.

Moreover – for us all – we need to consider carefully the assumptions that are bound up in the terms ‘disadvantaged’, ‘SEND’ and ‘literate’: a child does not become illiterate if they don’t achieve the appropriate GCSE grade, nor are they doomed to failure in life if they do.

Chris Rossiter is Director of the Driver Trust

Anyone, or any organisation, advocating for children with special needs and who may be disadvantaged in various ways have to be applauded, but it is very telling that Chris gives (as in the pyramid diagram mentioned in my last post) only this response: "Reports talk of a vision for 100% literacy but – when you look a little closer – only, it seems, for those children where the solutions are simple: more reading with parents or catch-up programmes."

This in itself neglects the importance of good phonics provision in the first place and the fact that those schools improving their phonics provision are notably reducing the incidence, or the level of, special needs in literacy (and this will also address complications of self-esteem or lack thereof and of poor behaviour).

People such as myself who keep an eye on developments in the field of literacy have long since reported their worries about official reports and organisations such as teachers unions and various literacy and special needs organisations through which phonics provision is diminished, barely mentioned, discredited, misunderstood or misrepresented. This state of affairs is commonplace.

There should certainly be an investigation into 'which' catch-up programmes the weakest, slowest and most disadvantaged children are provided with. I have seen some very poor provision - not content-rich (Sound Training), or including multi-cueing guessing strategies (Reading Recovery), or with advice to 'draw a line around words' to help with spelling (Dyslexia Action training). Often these intervention programmes are not nearly so content-rich or thorough as the phonics programmes associated with mainstream - and Sir Jim Rose recommends that any catch-up should, first and foremost, be in line with the mainstream provision (a good mainstream phonics programme is also an intervention programme - for example, use the programmes' resources with supervision, more intensively, more little and often, in partnership with parents/carers - to avoid a growing gap between slower to learn children and others in the class).
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Re: Worrying article suggesting a 'focus on phonics' excludes children with special needs

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Thu Mar 23, 2017 6:40 pm

Gordon Askew addresses this idea that 'some children need something different' here:

http://ssphonix.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/ ... etely.html

And now for something completely different

I am often asked about the role of phonics in 'catch up'. Some learners are in KS2, KS3 or beyond and, sadly, have not yet got very far at all with mastering basic reading. Teachers and parents understandably want to know how best to help them, to start them on the reading journey, or at very least to enable them to become functional readers.

One of the pronouncements I hear most frequently in respect of these learners generally goes along the lines of: 'They have been doing phonics for years and it hasn't worked for them. Now they need to try a different approach,' or 'Phonics does't work for everyone. These kids obviously need something else.'

Unfortunately such thinking is a massive red herring, and can have disastrous results, depriving learners of the very teaching they most desperately need to achieve the desired 'catch up'.
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Re: Worrying article suggesting a 'focus on phonics' excludes children with special needs

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Fri Mar 24, 2017 4:28 pm

I have now read through this latest Driver Youth Trust report as flagged up by Helen Ward in the TES so I am now in a position to comment regarding the thrust of Helen Ward's piece that a 'focus on phonics' excludes children with SEND:

Through the Looking Glass: Is universal provision what it seems?

https://www.docdroid.net/YzTmu48/dyt-lo ... tml#page=5

In the foreword of the report, a paragraph says this:

Our aim is always to be practical. Therefore we have made a series of recommendations that we believe, if followed, will make real changes to the literacy landscape and to those learners with SEND, particularly those with literacy difficulties. We pride ourselves on being collaborative and so we welcome the views and opinions of others on the issues we have raised.

It is a valid exercise to have a close look at a number of relatively current reports from influential organisations to see what they may have to conclude and offer. The question then arises, does this DYT report add anything of any real substance to contribute to the picture of literacy in the country - particularly with SEND children's needs in minds? Has author, Chris Rossiter, provided a clear analysis of various reports and indicated a direction of travel that those in authority and influence would be well-advised to follow?

In the report it states:

An analysis of the text in 21 strategies, policies and initiatives from some of the leading educational and policy organisations in the country identified the following key themes:

• Confusion over which children and young people are the true focus of literacy improvement
• Lack of clarity around what is meant by disadvantage and a limited discussion of SEND
• Considerable positivity around the aspirations for children and young people, with suggestions for practice.
• Strategies that more readily focus on those children and young people who can ‘catch up’ with limited support, at the expense of more specialist strategies appropriate for SEND learners.
• Family background as the supposed reason behind failure to make progress, when in reality it is the failure to address the requirements of children and young people with SEND within the mainstream school system.

Let us assume that Chris and colleagues do indeed summarise these 21 reports accurately according to the bullet points above (although I would not rely on this, but for argument's sake, let's just move forwards), then here is the hypothesis stated in the report:

Our hypothesis
Our hypothesis is that most influential papers, including those written by think tanks and charities, have a theory of change that assumes strengthening the universally available offer of teaching phonics or grammar, and creating more literacy-enriched classrooms, will support all children and young people to reach an ‘appropriate level’ of literacy.

Our guess is that these papers are presented as being for all when in fact they are targeted only at the lowest two levels of the pyramid – which represents between 80% and 90% of children, i,e, those who will be able to read, write, speak and listen with relatively low-cost support and limited specialist input.

Why does this matter?
Approaches that focus on widely available models, such as good classroom teaching of phonics, handwriting, vocabulary building or targeted interventions (e.g. volunteer one-to-one reading and parental engagement), are of course immensely valuable. On the whole, they do benefit all children. However, what they will not do is ensure literacy for all.

Therefore, our premise is that those position papers that claim to be universal and for all actually focus on solutions for the first two groups of children and young people (see Figure 2) and ignore a significant number for whom literacy represents the greatest challenge.

The implications of this are that funding and policy decisions that have been developed in response to these papers may be poorly formed and only partially successful because of the failure to join the specialist and SEND approaches with the universal literacy agenda. This is a significant factor in our entrenched low levels of literacy.

Note - the emboldening and red colouring is added by me.

So - Chris Rossiter is suggesting that strengthening phonics or grammar universally, and creating more literacy-enriched classrooms, is only really targeted at 80% to 90% of children and that these things, it would seem will not benefit 10% to 20% of children. Really? Can he possibly be suggesting that the weakest and slowest learners, the learners with special needs and disabilities, will not benefit from universal training in these things, in universal provision in these things? Are these things not appropriate, in Chris's view, for the SEND children? Or is he simply saying that the authorities who have promoted these aspects of literacy provision do not intend for them to benefit the SEND children, or kid themselves that the SEND children will benefit. Either way, I'm already concerned by the hypothesis in this report.

Further, Chris links this with suggesting that SEND children may only benefit from greater funding and 'specialist input'. In order to evaluate these ideas, we would need to be practical and look at schools that have had no additional funding to provide the 'universal' literacy provision described above and examine whether they have addressed the needs of their SEND children well enough or at all in comparison with schools that have invested in specialist support.

The next mention that Chris makes of 'phonics' is on page 12 of the 21 pages. I think (please note that I'm working very quickly as I'm very busy), that this is the only mention of phonics in the whole report other than the statement above. Chris writes:

The use of phonics to support reading is one area the government has particularly emphasized, claiming that ‘almost all children, including those from deprived backgrounds, who have good teaching of phonics will learn the skills they need to tackle new words and real full texts … This includes children who find learning to read difficult, for example, those who have dyslexia’ (DfE, 2015, p.14).

Phonics is clearly an effective method of teaching children to decode, and this may support some children with SEND. However, there is no discussion of how to address requirements of those children for whom phonics proves ineffective and what alternatives there should be after phonics has been delivered well. Just ‘more phonics’ is not the answer.

The emboldening immediately above (Just 'more phonics is not the answer') is not mine. It is emboldened in the text of the report. And if memory serves me correctly, this is the only place in the report where some content in the text is actually emboldened! I can't help but get the impression that Chris really does not appreciate the importance of phonics for all learners, including SEND children. I'm not only suggesting, but stating, that phonics is equally important for all and that guidance and training to improve technical knowledge and skills for literacy (phonics and grammar) - along with 'creating more literacy-enriched classrooms' DOES indeed aim to cater for all children regardless of disadvantage and regardless of SEND. Further, although Chris's report implies he is ambitious for SEND children by references to qualifications they can achieve with the correct support and accommodations, I'm not clear what he thinks SEND children should receive instead of phonics to help them to read and write both in the short term and the longer term. This is why I think Chris is being entirely unambitious for the children to which he seems to refer.

Indeed, Chris himself notes this at a later stage in the report:

Schools (page 24)

Primary and secondary

In general, primary and early years settings are most often mentioned in relation to universal literacy, with the best primary schools teaching ‘virtually every child to read, regardless of the social and economic circumstances of their neighbourhoods, the ethnicity of their pupils, the languages spoken at home and most special needs or disabilities’ (Ofsted, 2011, p.10).


[My red and emboldening - so important is this statement by Ofsted.]

Which bit of this observation and statement by Ofsted does Chris (and his colleagues?) not understand?

At this point, I'll mention again the 1,138 schools in England in which 95% to 100% of children reached or exceeded the Year One Phonics Check benchmark. Again I ask, does Chris consider that these schools simply did not have a percentage of children with disadvantage and special needs of various descriptions?

This certainly does raise teacher-training and CPD issues - but in the field of phonics and foundational literacy - the very field that Chris states is not suitable for all children with SEND. Chris takes the line that SEND children 'process information and progress developmentally in different ways'. He states:

Losing the gap for SEND children and young people is complicated by the specific impact on learning because they process information and progress developmentally in different ways. For children with SEND, learning is not simply a matter of catching up. Such a view ignores or refuses to accept that some will never reach these standards. That is not to say, however, that those children cannot achieve through broader academic attainment at secondary, further or higher education. It may just mean they need an alternative method to demonstrate what they know and can do, rather than how well they can read and write – one that provides them with an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities and potential.

42% of all SEND pupils pass the KS1 phonics screening test compared to 86% who are not identified with SEND

However, Chris does value Quality First Teaching that benefits all learners. He states:

Our comment
This isn’t about ‘closing the gap’ for children and young people who are disadvantaged. This is about having a well-managed school with Quality First Teaching that benefits all learners.

But in the same section he further states:

Phonics does not work for every learner. This needs to be accepted and alternative strategies for accessing literacy addressed, recognizing that failure to pass a phonics test at age 5 or 6 does not mean a learner is destined for failure.

My experience of many headteachers and teachers around the country is that lower pass rates in the Year One Phonics Check have actually alerted them to the possibility that they are simply not teaching as effectively as other schools - and that with more effective phonics teaching, virtually all the children will succeed regardless of differences - just as Ofsted has observed and reported! They are not going down the route of 'phonics does not work' for any of their children.

Now, what does Chris say with regard to alternative provision for these learners for whom he suggests that phonics 'does not work'? Following a section where he quotes from the well-known 'Read On Get On' campaign by Save the Children (known commonly as ROGO), Chris notes, quite rightly, that there is much emphasis on 'the love of reading' and the role of the parents and reading at home to raise levels of literacy. He's not the only one to notice this emphasis on 'love of reading' and the 'role of the parents' and I have to agree with Chris somewhat when he states, following his observations about the ROGO literature:

Our comment
Many children with a SEND that affects reading, such as dyslexia, will never develop a love of reading. Indeed, they will often hate or fear it. They can be supported to develop a love of stories or of poetry or encouraged to develop a thirst for knowledge about any number of subjects, but these things can be accessed in other ways such as through auditory or visual media.

In addition, there are too many assumptions around disadvantage and literacy that can be stigmatizing – for example, that poor parents and families value literacy less by owning fewer books and reading less to their children.

It would seem that following not only the ROGO campaign, but also the wide-scale protestation about the introduction of the statutory Year One Phonics Check by 90+ children's authors and illustrators (headed up by the vociferously anti-phonics author, Michael Rosen) that Minister Nick Gibb went to some considerable trouble to balance his promotion of phonics provision with an emphasis on the importance of children's literature and encouraging a love of literature.

But Chris does not really address the alternative provision he thinks dyslexic and SEND children should receive to replace phonics.

In his report, Chris has this to say about the transition between Key Stages 2 and 3:

There have been calls for ‘post-primary school literacy issues’ to be addressed (All-Parliamentary Group for Education, 2011, p.4), and a need has been identified for ‘continuity in the teaching of literacy between primary and secondary schools to avoid alienating pupils with weaker literacy skills’ (National Literacy Forum, 2014, p.6). However, the extent to which secondary schools have capacity, in terms of teacher knowledge and skills or curriculum time, is not addressed. Overall, the role that secondary-phase education plays has been downplayed.

In addition, the focus for secondary schools is more likely to be on developing faculty-based approaches to improve literacy, for example by improving subject-specific vocabulary. This is especially challenging following the transition between Key Stages 2 and 3, and the additional demands of curricula and assessment.

Now, in part I agree with Chris's observation that there is a need for addressing 'teacher knowledge and skills' in the secondary sector (and Key Stage 2) but - probably much to Chris's horror - I actually call for ALL teachers to be trained and knowledge about the very complex code of the English language (the most complex alphabetic code in the world) AND how to teach and/or support any learners of any age and stage who need help, in reading and spelling (and even handwriting) - yes, in other words, in PHONICS. We haven't yet managed, as a country, to teach foundational literacy (phonics) well enough which is why only some schools are achieving the kind of levels that we need all schools to achieve.

You see, Sir Jim Rose carefully pointed out in his historic and internationally renowned report (Final Report, 2006) that it is the SAME alphabetic code knowledge and skills that all children require, including those children one might identify as 'dyslexic'. Reading and writing consists of this very complex alphabetic code and it needs to be taught very well.

Time and time again, Chris Rossiter in his report gives as an example of a SEND learner, the 'dyslexic' child. One cannot help get the impression that Chris has much empathy with dyslexic children and feels that their needs are not getting addressed. They're not in many cases. But one also gets the impression that Chris might include this group of learners as the group who are not well-served by phonics provision. But that is a misguided view.

In other words, there are some contradictions in Chris's report. One cannot dismiss some of his observations and suggestions out of hand - but the underpinning impression of his report is very worrying - that he does not consider the literacy provision officially and universally promoted and funded in England is fully relevant for SEND pupils.

But, at no time can I recall Chris calling for a full review of the quality and content of the Quality First teaching in schools. And this is what is needed.

Surely, if 1,138 schools can achieve higher results than all the others (a growing number year on year), this suggests that teachers in these schools are teaching their children with dyslexic tendencies and other learning challenges effectively, then we need to look at what are they doing to achieve this. In fact, whilst Chris highlights the 42% figure as the results of the SEND children in the check, he seems to have missed the fact that year-on-year, in England, more and more schools are looking like they are teaching effectively more and more of their children - just as Ofsted stated above!

I certainly agree with Chris that all of the reports have 'a commendable desire to improve literacy' - but I note that many reports, not just Chris's report - still continue to underestimate and even dismiss the huge importance of phonics and training provision for the whole teaching profession - which will surely benefit more and more learners - including the SEND children.

And whereas Chris is calling for the funding for more specialist dyslexia support, we also need a serious look at the quality and content of 'intervention' programmes - as some of these may be seriously wanting according to the research findings and when evaluated and compared amongst wider options.

The Driver Youth Trust itself, as I mentioned previously, is still providing literature with multi-cueing reading strategies discredited by research - especially damaging for the SEND children!!!
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Re: Worrying article suggesting a 'focus on phonics' excludes children with special needs

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Mon Mar 27, 2017 2:02 pm

In tweeting about this issue, here are some comments made because it is no surprise that some tweeters were highlighting and supporting the anti-phonics message (including a screenshot from the report itself re those who don't 'pass' the phonics check) in the report so I considered that this needed a response.

The anti-phonics tweeter in support of the report's stance wrote:

This needs to be engraved above the door of the Dept of Education:

And this is the bit from the DYT report that was provided via a screenshot and highlighted:

Phonics does not work for every learner. This needs to be accepted and alternative strategies for accessing literacy addressed, recognising the failure to pass a phonics test at age 5 or 6 does not mean a learner is destined

So I responded via Twitter:

It's extraordinary that this report says some dyslexic children 'need something different' from phonics. Misguided.


This is a worryingly flawed statement. The nature of the writing system isn't different for learners who struggle.

Another tweeter agreed and wrote:

What not passing [the Y1 phonics check] DOES mean: the phonics teaching needs to continue and/or improve so the child can learn how the code works.


And ridiculous strawman argument. No phonics proponent thinks a child who doesn't pass the check is doomed to failure.

Another tweeter wrote with regard to this issue:

Why is there such resistance to the overwhelming evidence in favour of phonics?

And another one wrote:

When is education going to be based on what we know: what robust evidence shows? I despair of 'leading charities' not understanding


Agreed: failing Y1 Phonics test has NEVER meant schools regarding ch as destined for failure. Standardised tests inform interventions.

But I need to clarify something about the statutory Year One Phonics Screening Check in England for those who are not familiar with it. First of all, it is officially presented as a 'check' and not as a 'test'. The piece selected for the screenshot above is clearly written with emotive language. The 32 out of 40 words figure in the check is a 'benchmark'. Although the results are noted by local authorities and the Ofsted inspectorate will be noting the results of individual schools (during inspections) and schools more widely, nevertheless, the results are not published in the national domain school by school (although individual schools sometimes choose to report their phonics results via their school's website). The phonics check is a simple and important way to give teachers a professional steer as to their teaching effectiveness relative to other schools and local authorities.

It is HUGELY important to recognise that an increasing number of schools are teaching all their children effectively in technical alphabetic code knowledge and the phonics blending skill. This should be the aspiration of ALL teachers for ALL the children including the SEND children. And if all the children do not manage the level of knowledge and skill required by the end of Year One, teachers should continue to hone their own knowledge and skills and provision until such time as ALL the children are on the road to decoding as well as they can.

Secondly, children who do not 'reach or exceed' the benchmark of 32 out of 40 words read correctly or plausibly (in the case of the pseudo-words), are not written off as suggested by this report. The results should flag up to the school that those children need further phonics provision with the aim of them improving their phonics knowledge and decoding skill for their own benefit and reading potential. Thus, there is an official re-take check for Year 2 children near the end of their academic year. The majority of these re-take children reach or exceed the benchmark.

So, the Driver Youth Trust report is disingenuous about the phonics check in a number of ways - in addition to being very seriously misguided by suggesting that some dyslexic children may need 'something different' even so early on as Year 2 if they have not, reached the suggested benchmark of the check (or at least, that's what the report's ideas imply from my reading of it).

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