Too many children are not able to achieve the expected standard of reading by the age of 11, according to a group of MPs.
The select committee report, "Teaching Children to Read" found that 17% of 11-year-olds in England do not reach the required standard for their age.
Language experts believe there would be an improvement with the implication of a system - already successful in Scotland - known as synthetic phonics which breaks words down in to segments.
What do you think of reading standards in schools? Could teaching phonetically help children to achieve? What do you think of the way your children are taught to read?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
What do you expect from a generation who use 'txt' language? Reading at home needs to be encouraged more from both parents and teachers.
The findings of this Select Committee report should come as no surprise as for the past 30 years successive Governments and Education Departments continue to change policies - for the worse. Why there is this continual change instead of getting back to basics and teaching kids how we were taught in the 1950s is beyond me!!
David Hankey, Great Easton, Leics, England
I have to agree with everyone here who says it is up to the parents as well as schools. My mum used to read to me and get me to read for 20 minutes every evening. Consequently not only was my reading level that of a 15-year-old at only seven years old, I was one of the top spellers in my year too.
Natalie, Brighton, UK
I worked on a project for 16 - 19 year olds, of the 22 on the course only four could read fluently. They had not been excluded from school, but had had very little parental input, before children are born perhaps parenting classes should be mandatory, so we know that children can be fed and nurtured appropriately, and that parents would be able to identify children's needs.
It doesn't make a tiny bit of difference how the teachers get the basics across to kids in school, unless they spend more time reading and less time on the PlayStation, kids won't reach a decent standard of literacy. It's as simple as that.
I'm hardly surprised, it wasn't until my brother was 17 and in his sixth form that he was finally diagnosed as dyslexic. If several teachers at different schools couldn't spot a clearly disabled reader, what hope for the non-disabled?
Alex, Aylesbury, UK
My mum tells me I started learning to read from cereal packets on the breakfast table well before I reached school age. Encouragement from parents is bound to help enormously, but how to encourage parents to see the value and do something about it?
Mike Laurie, Glasgow, Scotland
I do not believe there was anything wrong with the methods for teaching reading and writing. I and all my peers managed, I think it is more the current culture which is impeding children today. I used to read with my parents at night time before bed almost every night, as an activity of learning and also parental bonding. Now people sit and watch a DVD with their kids instead.
Daniel Morgan, Kent, Great Britain
My son is seven and he has a reading age two years above his age. He loves to read and while he plays his GameBoy, he spends more time reading. He gets 20 spellings a week and he is ahead of some children who are 10! The secret is old fashioned methods and parental support. It is not rocket science. Spin and gimmicks do not work, just traditional methods and hard work.
Chris Parker, Bucks
Doesn't matter what system you start to decode words with, in the end you rely on a pure memory bank of words for over 99% of your reading. Phonics is just a way in. Practise is the key and the majority of poor readers have no practise at home. That is the parent's fault not the teachers.
KB, Ashford, UK
Literacy standards have been dropping for years, as have numeracy standards. The only way I can see to combat this is for the parents to accept responsibility. My mum and dad used to read to me, and with me from a very early age. A little goes a long way.
DW, USA (UK expat)
I remember back in the early 70s this method was used. I was happily reading my Janet and John books at the age of five, thanks to this system. It certainly isn't new but it works.
My sister was berated by her son's reception class teacher because my nephew could say his entire alphabet when he began primary school - the only problem being that it was in 'capitals' and that holy grail, the national curriculum, insists that they need to learn, what I would call, 'baby letters' first. Parent's can't win.
There's nothing new about synthetic phonics, except the fancy name. I was taught to read by this system back in the 50s and so was my older brother, and we have both grown up as avid - and good - readers.
Andy, Cheshire, England
Never mind opinion and theory: just look at the results achieved in Clackmannanshire, Scotland and all the other schools where synthetic phonics is used. Consistently passes in English at KS2 are in the high 90s%, and the children can be from the most "deprived" backgrounds or even speaking English as a second language.
Brian King, Nottingham
This "new" method sounds very much like the way I was taught to read over 50 years ago and I have to say that the size of the class when I left junior school was over 40 and all could read. However I do remember being tested by the headmaster himself at various stages to "fix" individual reading ages. We also had to read aloud to the rest of the class from a very early age. As I also attended four different schools between the ages of 5 and 11, I did not exactly get "joined up learning". There seems to be something fundamentally wrong with the way reading is taught nowadays. Bring back "Chicks Own" comic etc., where all the words were divided into separate syllables.
Heather Cooke, Lincs/Cambs border
I totally agree that parents should take the initiative here, but am not surprised they don't. After all, when an organisation (all government areas, including schools) constantly tell you how to do things and what you're doing wrong, they are, by implication, taking responsibility. If government bodies take the responsibility (as many, including schools, do) is it the parents job to wrestle it back?
My parents taught me to read before I started school and I'm forever grateful to them for it. It gave me a head start in my education and a passion for reading that has never faded. Too many parents take no responsibility for their children's education and the country is suffering because of it.
Stephen Nicholson, Shildon, UK
This is a national disgrace. The government and modern parents along with the rubbish that gets rolled out on TV are to blame. It's particularly embarrassing when you consider that most European kids not only read and write well but can speak our language better than lots of our children can.
Peter, Spalding, England
Whilst I feel there are lots of contributory factors a major one is pressure on teachers in Infant Schools to focus on targets and SATs. My 7 year old (year 2) daughter attends a small primary school where children are being pushed to practice SATs so much that the teachers have no time to teach them to spell and write properly. A number of children have totally lost confidence in writing. If the foundations of literacy are not put in at the beginning what are they supposed to build on?
I feel extremely sorry for the teaching profession of today. The children they are valiantly trying to educate are the offspring of an older generation who were exposed to the trendy educationist driven reforms introduced by their teacher predecessors in the late 1960s and 1970s. Comprehensive education at that time had to be fun, easy and fashionable, for both pupils and teachers. Traditional subjects were abandoned in favour of such things as 'modern' maths, and humanities. It should be no surprise that there is now a sizeable adult population who lack a good basic education, and who are unwilling or unable to encourage their children to excel at school.
Alistair, Hampshire, UK
Whatever happened to the normal curve of distribution? For every Einstein there will be someone with a specific learning difficulty who will take longer to learn to read. These are surely the 'one in five.' The rest of us are somewhere in the middle range. So why are we all so surprised that 17% of 11 year olds haven't mastered it yet?
Chris, Surrey. UK.
Phonics is one of many different methods that should be used to enable children to read and spell correctly. Experts will also tell you of the importance of varying teaching styles in order to keep a young person's attention and interest. Regardless of the 'new' strategies being proposed it is paramount that the enjoyment of reading is transferred from the teacher to the pupil - if this is achieved then the strategy has been successful!
Jon Lewis, Cardiff, Wales
What is going on? The importance of phonics in the teaching of reading is an essential part of the National Literacy Strategy along with a range of other word attack skills. It is VERY carefully laid down what is to be taught and when. Synthetic Phonics is a way of teaching phonics that many schools in have used in some way for a while now! As a teacher I feel that I am being given a good kicking for doing as I have been told by Ofsted, assorted government agencies, HMI and Local Authority Inspectors. A good reason for reading standards not improving as politicians would like is more than likely due to the sheer size of the KS1/2 curriculum, and the time allocation within the school 'Literacy Hour' that is devoted to reading. Whatever happened to reading for pleasure in school!
Ian H, Redditch, Worcestershire
Children in this country are forced to go to school too early; some of them are not ready and it puts them off reading and writing - my son is a victim of this system. I've been reading with children in his class since he started school 7 years ago and I feel very sad for some of the children who are struggling with their reading. You cannot put all the blame on the parents, however, some children do not want to read no matter how much time you spend with them or how much fun you try to make. I also feel that the book selection at schools has a lot to answer for, it seems to be aimed at girls and boys get easily bored reading 'girly' books.
My parents-in-law are both experienced and, by any sane measure, successful teachers. Instead of letting them get on with the job, "experts" half their age are busy telling them they can't have a desk any more because it's not "child-friendly" enough. As a direct result of control freakery by the management, one of them is taking early retirement, and the other is on anti-depressants and long-term sick leave through stress. The government should start supporting old-school teachers who understand how to teach while there are still some of them left in the profession. Once they're gone, no doubt replaced by trendy, politically-correct teaching methods in the hands of new teachers barely out of school themselves, it will take decades to recover.
This is not a new problem, over the years I've encountered many employees/potential employees who can't read or write properly. Application forms (hand written) can reveal some frightening results. League tables don't reflect the true situation - but who's to blame? Who will stand up and be counted (assuming they can count)?
John Stephens, Ivybridge, Devon, England
How is it possible for any child to go through the school system without being able to read properly? Schools should not allow pupils to progress through the system until the end of terms exams have been passed; peer pressure alone will encourage children to keep up with their fellow pupils. It is a mark of a civilization that all should read and write fluently.
Brian M Keith, Ellesmere, England
I think that these statistics are a reflection of how parents do not spend time in their busy and noisy home lives to read to and with their children. This is not a reflection of the teaching done in schools.
Sue, Farnborough, Kent
My son's school doesn't leave parental involvement to chance. Reading books come home accompanied by a progress report that the parent has to sign once they have listened to the child read. It was made clear from the outset that reading practise was our responsibility and that seemed to resolve any your job/my job issues.
Lorraine, St Albans, UK
It's high time that we acknowledged that the influences at home far outweigh those of the school. Reading at home is the key to good reading and sitting in front of a TV or a Playstation never did teach anyone to read.
Richard Roberts, Huddersfield, England
When I was at school the emphasis used to be on fiction books, something even now (at 20 years old) I can't stand to read. Parents and teachers alike need to understand that reading unrealistic stories is not everyone's cup of tea. I craved information that was real, so any opportunity to read something non-fictional like an encyclopaedia or book on natural history was fantastic.
Amy, Reading, UK
The answer is plainly no! Children's reading skills are not good enough, but then many other skills in lots of children are also not good enough either. Why? Simple, classes are too big; teachers are providing streamed learning, more attention is being spent on the worst and best and not equally shared throughout; and finally they are driven by the wrong forces; not the speed at which children learn and each is different, but by the targets set by.
Tony, Tring, UK
I can't understand what's so revolutionary about this synthetic phonics system. Back in the 50s, I was taught to read by the very same system - learn the alphabet, learn the sounds the letters make, then build up words from the sounds... c-a-t spells cat. What's more, my wife (a teacher for the last 20+ years) has been using this system all her career. It's not rocket science and it certainly isn't new!
Andy, Manchester, England
My eldest daughter (now 10) was taught to read with synthetic phonics, and now has a reading age of 16. My middle daughter was taught using Letterland and whole word recognition and, aged 8, has a reading age of 6. I have taught all three of my children their alphabets at home, and we read together daily. I am looking forward to seeing how my youngest daughter (aged 4) does when she starts with synthetic phonics at school. For me, the advantages of a phonetic system are clear, having experienced both. Also, phonics and phonetics help children with dyslexic tendencies as it gives a clear framework on how to tackle new words, unlike whole word recognition.
Olivia Heywood, Scotland
In Scotland the use of synthetic phonics does have a degree of success, but what needs to be remembered is that different children have different learning styles, and although synthetic phonics will help some, it is not an all encompassing answer. We need smaller classes where teachers are able to assess individual children's needs and address them appropriately
Kevin Cheetham, Felixstowe Suffolk
Schools should stop telling parents not to teach their kids to read. There should also be better detection and treatment of dyslexic pupils (it took my sister and I until we got to university to be diagnosed). Most importantly learning to read should not be a chore, which is how many pupils see it, but a fun experience.
I don't think class size has anything to do with how well children learn. When I was at junior school in the late 1950s, there were always over 40 children in the class. We had lessons where we each took it in turns to read a part of a book with the class. I could read before I went to school as I used to play at "schools" with my elder sister and her friends. I got the reading bug at an early age and have never lost it.
F U r rdng ths msg U cn ndrstnd y kds cant rd or spll ny mor!
Lorraine, St Albans, UK
While I do agree that reading should begin at home, there is a problem, particularly with boys. I have a 14 year old son who is, at best, a reluctant reader. He can read but never seems to be able to get a book to hold his attention for long, even though we encourage him. Any ideas please?
Stephen, Newcastle, England
"Education, education, education". What does that tell us about the government, who apparently informed the nation just how well primary schools were doing? What measure were they using, if the kids cannot read or write? How can they progress in education? How will they achieve the grades necessary to go to university?
Chris Kisch, Milton Keynes, UK
Kids start school and don't even know how to hold a knife and fork, so I'm not that surprised that a lot of them can't read. Schools can only do so much. Parents have to take an active, not passive, role in their children's education and social skills.
Barb, E Sussex
No reading standards are not good enough, but this is because children do not have enough knowledge of language. Phonetics teaching undoubtedly works but children need to have a wide vocabulary for it to be effective and teachers are constantly finding that children cannot even talk properly by the time they reach school, its no wonder then that they are behind in their reading. Parents need to talk to their children and reading with them is a perfect opportunity for them to do so.
The 'synthetic phonetics' sounds remarkably like the method my Dad used to teach me to read (no, schools were not always perfect in those days either)and it was the method I in turn used to help my two sons to learn to read. Perhaps the real answer is in the need for parents to read with their children at home. There is no magic bullet just patience, perseverance and shared enthusiasm. If only parents would realise how rewarding reading with your child can be. It's fun as well with the right books. Perhaps more spent on local libraries and children's books, plus Saturday workshops by librarians on how to help your child and which books are fun to use.
S A Horn, Canterbury England
Schools with disruptive children, with ever increasing special needs make the teacher's job almost impossible to do - the slightly below average child is the true victim now. Reading starts from those early bedtime stories and a little encouragement from mum and dad. There are too many single parents, too many computer games and too much blame put on the education system.
John Harris, Derby
I've sent my kids to a private school - enough said!
As an FE lecturer I can say that reading, writing and spelling standards are bad and getting worse for most of the pupils at the college I teach at. By the time they get here it's too late! It isn't any one factor - and believe me teachers and trainers are trying to improve the standards, but society as a whole has to take responsibility, don't keep heaping the blame on teachers. The whole learning ethic has to start in the home with the parents. Sorry they're your kids, you should accept some responsibility.
JK, Portsmouth UK
I'm about to finish my training as a primary School teacher and the use of phonics is but one of a variety of different cueing systems that children should be using to read and comprehend a text before them. The government needs to be very careful if they are to suddenly put all their emphasis on phonics. Their own Literacy Strategy encourages the use of various systems as different children do learn to read in different ways, be it phonics, from illustrations, or sounding words out.
From my experience so far, as well as chatting to more senior colleagues, no one system alone can guarantee total reading success. Maybe more money needs to be invested in providing extra classroom support so teachers can actually sit with individual children and help gauge the best ways to help them achieve good reading levels, rather than trying yet another overhaul of the Literacy program.
Nitesh Gami, Wembley, UK
It's most definitely a parent's responsibility to sit and read with their children almost as soon as they can walk. In this day and age, there are hundreds of advances in more interactive learning materials by all good toy stores that puts emphasis on making it fun. I also thought that all schools have a literacy hour in the primaries these days? But the good thing is that most children do reach the expected standards, but then again we hear of the ever growing classroom disruption fracas. A good teacher just needs to hand out a detention and make them catch up on what they didn't do earlier - delinquents should soon get the message.
Mike, London, UK
My children's school use the jolly phonics reading scheme which teaches them the sounds of words, so allowing them to build up to more difficult and longer words. If a child doesn't know the sound of a letter or word how can they expect to learn to read?
Liz Hart, Surbiton, Surrey
Synthetic phonics isn't another "new-fangled" initiative. It's the way my mother taught me to read back in the sixties, while the school I attended was messing about with the ITA system which produced a generation of kids not only unable to read, but also abysmal spellers! I, for one, hope it catches on. Teaching kids what letters sound like before expecting them to tackle words is plain common sense. You wouldn't expect a child to build a Lego model without giving him or her the bricks to do it with! And giving children the tools they need in order to at least make a sensible guess at an unknown word by the letters it contains, rather than by frantically scanning the pictures or racking their memory, can only be a good thing.
There may still be issues in the age group covered by the report but I would guess that by the time they leave school the standard will be much better than what we've seen over the last 15 - 20 years. I have a 6 year old daughter whose reading is excellent, my memories may have faded over the years but the teaching of reading in particular seems far superior to when I was in school. She also has our support, something that was never asked from my parents.
Martin, Berwick-On-Tweed, England
I can only agree with so many previous correspondents that it is important that parents take the full responsibility of having children. The 'feed me better' programme for London schools has proven that this has improved student concentration and this is all part of the cause. It seems that there is no substitute for love and affection and caring for children. The children are the flowers of our field and it isn't their fault if they are left to grow into weeds that become out of control.
Brenda Moorhouse, Stockport, Cheshire
Yet again schools getting the blame for something that is the parents' responsibility! All children should be able to read before they start school - I certainly could; by the age of two, in fact!
Nichola Feeney, Dundee, Scotland
I think the standards are a lot lower than when I was at school, I was a good reader and even now don't travel unless I have a book to read (I'm 40). As some have said it's down to computer games, video games and watching too much television. But on the other hand, we do have to thank J.K Rowling for the Harry Potter books as she has brought back reading to some children and even adults. Certainly something needs to be done and quickly otherwise we could end up with a generation unable to read anything at all.
David Quinton, Wigan, England
If we are going to lay the blame for this at the door of the parents, then I suggest that we are a generation, or two, too late. We can't rely on the parents to help as they have no interest themselves (a lack of education on their part). So any proposal to deal with this has to target the parents in the first place - would a return to four TV channels help? As for discipline in the classes, let's re-introduce proper punishments and allow teachers to teach not baby-sit wayward children.
Gordon McLean, Hamilton, Scotland
This isn't Japan or China. Our children don't have to spend years learning hundreds of complex symbols - one for each word. They are lucky to inherit a written language that uses only 26 letters. It seems obvious that if you learn how the letters sound and behave you can read any word in any Western language, not just the ones you've met before.
Lorraine, St Albans, UK
A child learning to read is not the sole responsibility of the school. My wife regularly listens to Year 1 pupils reading at our local primary school. She says it's immediately obvious which read at home and are encouraged by their parents and those that are not.
Mark, Lewes, Sussex
In a world where television, video, DVD and computer games rule, the current situation will not change unless parents physically switch them off and provide books instead.
I volunteer at my son's junior school each day and listen to children read. My experience tells me that the children who cannot read properly are those with parents who cannot be bothered to listen to their children read, even as little as once a week. My experience of listening to children read for just 10 minutes each day has shown their reading ages leap by as much as 12-15 months in just one term. Imagine the progress that could be made if parents made the effort.
Wendy, Chelmsford, England
Not only do Scottish schools have a superior method of teaching, they have a better exam syllabus. Standard grade and Higher passes remain constant, unlike A levels. And Scottish kids receive a more balanced education because they do five Highers rather than three A levels. Standards in England would improve a lot if we took some advice from north of the border.
Peter, Nottingham (educated in Scotland)
I think the biggest issue with teaching is managing large classes with disruptive individuals. How can a class learn when the teacher spends 90% of their time managing the little Waynes and Waynettas?
Al, T Wells, UK
Learning to read should start at home. Sadly too many homes are devoid of books and many people have never visited their local library. Schools only have so much time for teaching and this should ideally be spent on improving grammar, spelling, vocabulary and comprehension rather than having to teach basic reading skills.
Chris Turner, Thatcham, Berkshire
I learned to read at school with no problems (though I can't remember exactly what method was used, there was definitely a phonetic element to the teaching) and by 11 had read the complete Lord of the Rings trilogy. I am not especially clever and I am 28 years old. What has gone wrong is the last 20 years?
Anna Walters, London, UK
A lot of children cannot read well because many parents do not read themselves, and do not read with their children. Making primary school teachers the scapegoats for this is completely unfair. I'm sure the vast majority of teachers are doing their best to teach reading in the most helpful way - synthetic phonics is just one tool in the teacher's armoury, not some magic wand that will cure all literacy problems.
Heather, Stockport, UK
Language experts say synthetic phonics will work this year, but next year they will come up with another new fad to try. How about more funds for public and school libraries?
B, Dartford, Kent
"Synthetic phonics" is the same as the old phonetics method used until the 60s. Presumably the new name is needed to avoid admitting they got it wrong.
Children need to also be encouraged to read at home as well as in schools. How is a child supposed to read well when all they do is watch television?
Jo, Manchester, UK
There is no 'one way' to teach children to read, each one benefits in different ways from a range of methods both formal (classroom instruction) and informal - such as being raised in a house full of books, being read to and read with, etc. The best way politicians can help is to fund research into how children acquire reading skills and then to fund the dissemination of the results to primary teachers and pre-school staff so that they are equipped with a range of skills to use as appropriate with each child they work with.
Youngsters are leaving school today with literacy standards which would have once been unacceptable in eleven-year olds. There appears to be little attention paid to grammar, spelling and punctuation. Exactly where the blame for this deterioration lies I am uncertain. I do know that the running of our schools and the teaching of our children should be in the hands of those who are trained in such matters - not in the hands of (relatively) ignorant administrators.
Raymond F. Breakspear, Ashford, Kent. U.K.
Like everything it is a lottery in this country. I had my two infant age boys at a local school in one borough and it was appalling, I ended up spending over £150 on the reading scheme books myself to get both children's reading up to scratch. I've since moved them to a school in a neighbouring borough and though again a state school, it's like being at the best private school ever. The standards are high and kept high, the teachers are more 'old school' with proper discipline standards and teacher-pupil relationships rather than pally-pally garbage. And guess what? My oldest especially, has changed from a child who hated school and would try to pretend to be poorly to stay home, to one who loves school, can't wait to tell me what he's learned that day, enjoys his homework, and gets upset if he is poorly and he can't go.
Our children don't need new schemes that are supposed to do this or that, we need a return to the old-fashioned values of discipline and proper teaching, coupled with the more understanding culture towards special needs cases that we have today.
I, and my siblings all learnt to read before starting school (as did my husband and his brother). Parents need to play a key role in encouraging children to read and helping them. I also firmly believe that the more they see their parents reading, the more they will come to take books as a natural part of life.
My boys, 6 and 8, were fully fledged readers by the end of their first term at state primary school, almost their first week, indeed. They lapped it up. Our school adopts a four-pronged approach, including context, and use of any illustrations to the story to ensure that somehow the skill seeps through. Undoubtedly the Oxford Phonics system was key in their learning, being both fun and informative.
No, children's reading skills are not good enough. It's the old problem of discipline, combined with the reading matter they give them nowadays. I had read The Lord of the Rings by the age of 11. Was I luckier than other children in my education? The bulk of my reading education was in a Bahamian school that couldn't afford glass for the school windows, only storm shutters. I hardly think that constitutes an equivalent of prep school, or anything like that. However, what they did have, was discipline in the class room, and a good straight forward reading course. Children also need books that engage the imagination and their interests. Not politically correct books that play safe, and teach them to hate reading, because it becomes boring.
I don't know about 11 year olds, but as an employer I am horrified at the lack of literacy in potential employees in the 18-25 age group.
John Atkins, Bridgwater, England
Since I was at school, reading systems have changed dramatically. My sisters have learnt to read much faster and much better than me and my classmates did at their age. Learning to read phonetically brings the words to life. Once they have b learnt the phonetic sounds, reading becomes easier and the learning curve sweeps upwards. I still think that learning to read should be assisted with pictures as it helps the children to learn the words and associate them with the correct objects.
Catherine, Suffolk, UK
Let's just hope that people are perceptive enough to leave the vitriolic criticism of teachers out of the equation and for once blame those who make policy. It is not acceptable for the markers to be moved just as teachers adjust to the previous standards set in place by the last round of "improvement" drives in education.
The teaching of reading has suffered because of political correctness and "trendy" methods. My husband and I taught our son to read before he started school, although neither of us has any formal teaching qualification, using good old-fashioned phonics and the "Janet and John" books. Our son wasn't scared to learn new words, but would "sound out" the letters and put them together to create a whole word. He was a confident reader and by the age of 4 he had the reading ability of a 7-year-old. Reading is one of his passions, and I feel so sorry for the children who have been let down by the system and are deprived of this pleasure.
Beverley, Herts, UK
I did primary school teaching for a time about 15 years ago and was appalled to find that children were being encouraged to spell as they spoke. I was brought up in Northern Ireland and my spelling is good - probably because the Northern Ireland dialect means we sound all our letters. Apply this to a class of 9 year olds in East Leeds and the results are disastrous e.g. "He has" becomes "e as" ! No wonder the written word doesn't look familiar to children taught in this way.