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A Guide to Synthetic Phonics

Synthetic as normally used means building something up from two or more basic elements also has a more negative connotation as artificial not natural (or not analytic in synthetic proposition terms)

When I was a boy we learned to read and write by the old fashioned method chalk and talk. You talk or you get the chalk! When old Mrs Meredith (now sadly passed away to the rejoicing of countless generations of her former pupils – I just thought I can now slander her name with impunity) asked you to spell a word she followed it up within at most a second or two with a piece of chalk fired at your head . I used to marvel at the unnerving accuracy that this slight women managed to find the target (mostly Lyn Davies head as it happens) across a crowded classroom with rarely a off target projection. Strong in arm the chalk made its parabolic flight with ICBM accuracy to find the offending dim wits ear – there to explode in a satisfying plume of chalk dust. Such was the skill I often thought she should have made the first eleven she clearly had cricket in her blood – she must have been related to WC Fields – mainly because of the beard come to think of it.

If there is good structure to teaching of whatever style the student will learn quickly – We must not at the first sign that one of Labours’s chavs cannot fill in his benefit claim form change the entire process. Is it worth another method and changing the whole pedagogical approach if the evidence for outcomes at eleven would not materially differ if a good style of teaching delivered by effective professionals was in place? What we are doing with the initiative is extending the control of government (as they cannot trust teachers) from what is taught, the content of the teaching, to how it is taught in the context in the classroom where the innovation and creativity of teachers should be allowed full rein. What this whole approach shows us is the limited understanding government has about practice and no appreciation that students are individuals with different learning styles – and as a consequence a one size blanket initiative will not fit all. What is needed is for professionals to be empowered to use the full armoury of tools and techniques at their disposal (including synthetic phonics) to delivery effective teaching and not headline spin for ministers to give the illusion they are making progress with their education policy.

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