Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Wednesday, 20 July 2005 18:04 UK

Finishing phonics


By Jackie Long
BBC Newsnight

Teaching children to read at school - it's hardly a revolutionary idea. But one east London school had been struggling to do just that for five years.

Three months ago they began teaching a controversial, commercially run synthetic phonics programme promising quick results. Newsnight's been following the programme all the way through. On Tuesday, we went back to find out - has it delivered on its promises?


There was no doubt that Britannia Village Primary School needed to do something radical.

Ruth Miskin teaching two children
Ruth Miskin runs the reading programme at the school

The majority of their children, running through all the age groups, were struggling.

A third of their seven to eight year olds had only just begun to read.

The new programme is called RML. It's run by former headmistress Ruth Miskin.

It's highly structured. Children are taught the individual sounds of each letter and group of letters, then how to blend those sounds to make words. Finally, they move on to read through a set of graded, colour-coded books which relate to the set of phonics they've been learning, as headteacher Linda-May Bingham explained:

"We're never saying, 'let's learn these phonic sounds and now here's a book that you can't read.' We teach them the phonics and then they find the sounds that they've been working on in the books and so they have instant success."


And was the success instant?

A teacher pointing to letters of the alphabet
The school says they noticed an improvement within weeks

Certainly the school claims they saw an improvement in many children's reading within weeks.

One of the key elements of the programme is streaming, making sure, for example, that once a child is confident with their initial sounds, they're moved quickly onto the next group. By week three, the majority of children were being moved up through the different groups.

But the real test of whether the programme has worked had to wait until Linda-May Bingham carried out her formal end of term assessments.

They've now been done.

After years of struggling, are the children of Britannia Village Primary finally being given what has eluded them for so long - the basic right to learn to read?


Linda-May has just finished her end of term assessments - and she's delighted with the results.

Using methods calibrated with the National tests sat by all seven year olds, she says EVERY single pupil's reading has improved from April to July - some by as much as two years.

In Year One, comprised of five and six year olds, pupils have made an average of a year's progress in just one term.

In Year Two - that's six and seven year olds - the children have made an average of four terms' improvement across the term.

And the older children have fared even better.

In Year Three the children, aged between seven and eight, made an average of five terms' progress over the term.

While in Year Four - the eight to nine year olds - more than five terms' progress was made in one term.

The Government has already launched an independent review into the teaching of reading which looks specifically at synthetic phonics.

For Linda-May Bingham the evidence is already there. "I'd say look at my figures. Look at all my statistics because it just proves that it works. The progress that the children have made is just stunning and I think I would challenge anybody to produce a better set of statistics to show how well it can work."

Jackie Long's final report in this series was shown on Newsnight on Wednesday 20 July. Online viewers can watch the report again by clicking on the media link at the top of the right-hand column.

Click here to watch Jackie Long's first two reports

video and audio news
Watch Jackie Long's end-of-term report on phonics

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