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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 October, 2004, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Sound advice on literacy scheme
Synthetic phonics
Pupils were found to move ahead quicker under the system
A teaching method based on the sounds that letters make has received backing from Scotland's education minister.

Peter Peacock said he wanted schools across the country to consider adopting the synthetic phonics system.

Half of all pupils in Scotland at present fail the national writing test for 14-year-olds.

But the Clackmannanshire school which has been trialling the pioneering scheme has seen results well above the national averages for boys and girls.

Faster learning

The first children to learn synthetic phonics at Menstrie primary are now in their last year at the school.

Boys in primary 7 are two-and-a-half years ahead of the average for their age and girls are 18 months ahead.

Mr Peacock wants councils to consider letting all children use the system.

In the past I often felt that some children learned to read in spite of what we were doing rather than because of what we were doing in the classroom
Veronica O'Grady
Head teacher
He said: "So encouraging are the results that I am going to make sure that every local authority knows about this, and that in turn every school knows about this.

"They can make the choice to use this system if they think it is going to benefit their particular children in their school."

The system was developed by Joyce Watson and Rhona Johnston while they were at St Andrews University.

Children learn the sounds that letters make and can make simple words very quickly, while also learning a strategy to read unknown words.

They use all their senses to learn, by touching, singing and moving colourful magnetic letters around.

Using the system, they can very quickly make words and work out unknown words, without having to rely on memory and guesswork.

Common method

Head teacher Veronica O'Grady said that teaching methods were very different 10 years ago.

"At that time the most common method of learning to read was look and say.

"Children were taught to look at a word, an adult would tell them what the word said and they had to recognise it using initially just the shape of the word and the context of pictures round about it."

Peter Peacock
Peter Peacock wants other schools to adopt the system
She added: "In the past I often felt that some children learned to read in spite of what we were doing rather than because of what we were doing in the classroom.

"The way it is being done now, more children are being given a bigger opportunity to learn effectively."

However, Sue Ellis, a literacy expert at Strathclyde University, said the scheme was not necessarily a magic wand.

"You cannot just assume that because it has worked in one school or one local authority it is going to work equally in others," she said.

"All sorts of things affect how well a programme works and it is not just the content of the programme or the way the programme has been designed."

She said that these factors included the resources available, the political profile of the scheme and the way it dovetails with the rest of the curriculum.

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