Here is the official transcript of the hearing, see page 25:http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentar ... ScotParlOR
Literacy Standards (Schools) (PE1668)
Under agenda item 2, we have one new petition for consideration. PE1668, by Anne Glennie, is on improving literacy standards in schools through research-informed reading instruction. Two written submissions in support of the petition, from Dr Marlynne Grant and Dr Sarah McGeown, are included with our papers.
I welcome Anne Glennie to the meeting along with Dr McGeown, who is a senior lecturer in development psychology from the University of Edinburgh, and Gordon Askew MBE from the International Foundation for Effective Reading Instruction. You may make a brief opening statement of up to five minutes, after which the committee will ask a few questions to help inform our consideration of the petition.
Here is the very sensible and encouraging summing up of the hearing:
Thank you very much. That has been really interesting. My recollection is that, pre-2011, the Labour Party had a commission on literacy. It was headed up by Rhona Brankin and it talked about synthetic phonics, which was accepted by the Scottish Government at the time—I think that Mike Russell was the education minister. It is an issue that there has been a conversation on.
I sit on the Education and Skills Committee, which had an evidence session with a group of people who are in initial teacher education. They were concerned about the level of support they had in learning literacy and numeracy. That was very much a concern. It is an issue that people are alive to, and I think that members have found your presentation very interesting.
What should we do in terms of taking the petition forward?
Following your comment about the work that Rhona Brankin’s team did, convener, it is worth pointing out that, in 2010, Mike Russell, who was the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning at the time, said:
“I agree that synthetic phonics has had considerable success.”—[Official Report, 7 January 2010; c 22562.]
If synthetic phonics was considered to have had considerable success way back in 2010, why has it not moved forward and become more commonplace?
The petitioners have made a very compelling case for synthetic phonics, particularly with regard to the evidence that children from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit from it. I think that we need to go back to the Scottish Government and ask what its current view is. We should also seek the opinion of the Educational Institute of Scotland and the GTC in Scotland.
The opinions of the EIS, the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers and other unions would also be useful.
If we write to the Scottish Government, we will get a generic response, and the petitioner has indicated that she has already received a response from the cabinet secretary. If we are going to ask the question, perhaps we should ask it in reference to those comments from 2010.
Yes, and we could include in the letter the evidence that we have heard today about there being a particular benefit to children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Could we also ask for the evidence against using and embedding synthetic phonics? There seems to be a suggestion that there is resistance from the cabinet secretary, and I would like to know what that is based on.
The argument seems to be about autonomy in curriculum for excellence. However, that is autonomy in the context of professional responsibility and understanding; it is not completely random in that it allows teachers to do whatever they like, and I do not think any teacher would argue that that is what autonomy means. It feels as though the cabinet secretary’s letter suggests that, but we can always explore that issue.
There is also the issue—it was briefly mentioned by the petitioners—that, if those who deliver teacher training do not know how to do synthetic phonics, they cannot teach it. Some resistance might come from that. I think that we should explore that with the cabinet secretary as well.
Could I respectfully make a suggestion, convener? It might not be your way forward, but it might be for the future. Dissemination of good practice is more effective than imposing something on people. You might identify people who are already using synthetic phonics well and get them to share their practice with other schools, so that the practice is communicated from school to school rather than from the top down.
The issue is partly about confidence. I am struck by the fact that we now have a strategy for teaching children to learn reading that enhances the opportunities for those who are already advantaged because they have those skills—a mechanistic approach that affords the opportunity to learn from the other stuff. I find it compelling that we have strategies that are based on existing success, not on understanding the disadvantage that some young people face.
I do not know whether there are other educationalists in Scotland, particularly in the colleges and universities, who are providing initial teacher education and who have a view on the matter. That may be something else that we could explore.
Thank you very much for your attendance today. That was a very interesting evidence session, and it will be useful to explore why there are concerns about something that appears logical. I think that that is how we would want to take the petition forward.