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Last Updated: Friday, 3 June, 2005, 00:06 GMT 01:06 UK
Primary reading lessons reviewed
Reading test results have improved in recent years
Literacy teaching in England's primary schools is to be reviewed following a critical report on standards by MPs.

Techniques such as "synthetic phonics" - the building up of words from simple letter sounds - will be investigated, with a view to using them more.

A Commons education select committee report in April said a 17% failure rate in reading tests for 11-year-olds was "unacceptably high".

Recommendations for reforms to help struggling readers are due in January.

'Getting ahead'

Synthetic phonics is already used in England as part of the National Literacy Strategy, introduced in 1998.

But other techniques, such as looking at word shapes or words in context on the page, also form part of it.

Woman's finger pointing at child's hand-writing
Most parents will find their teachers are using a version of phonics already
Kate Ruttle, teacher

In a project in Clackmannanshire, all children were exposed to synthetic phonics throughout primary school - almost to the exclusion of other methods.

When tested at age 11, they were found to be three years ahead of their contemporaries across Scotland in reading.

The MPs, reporting just before the general election, said this study required further attention in England.

Announcing the review, Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said: "There is a false notion that we have not been teaching synthetic phonics as part of the literacy strategy. We have.

"It is already at the heart of early literacy teaching for every child, every day. The debate now centres not on whether to teach phonics, but how.

"Synthetic phonics, properly taught, can and does play an important part in teaching reading skills."

Jim Rose, the former director of inspection at the education watchdog Ofsted, will lead the review.

Ruth Miskin
I'm not saying that in 16 weeks we're necessarily going to get every child to the required level
Ruth Miskin, literacy expert

He said: "We will look carefully and fairly at what robust research and sound practice have to tell us about how schools and early years settings can best deliver high quality teaching that results in successful learning for all children."

The proportion of England's 11-year-olds reaching the required standard at reading in national tests has increased from 67% to 83% since 1997.

However, critics say there is much "teaching to the test", questioning whether literacy levels have genuinely increased as much as claimed.

Shadow Education Secretary David Cameron welcomed the review of reading, saying synthetic phonics seemed "far more effective" than current mixed-method teaching.

He said: "The biggest problem facing education today is the fact that one in five 11-year-olds leaves primary school unable to read properly.

"That group never recovers and their secondary education is blighted as a consequence."

Liberal Democrat education spokesman Ed Davey said: "It is good to see the Education select committee's recommendation of an independent review being acted upon."

See synthetic phonics being taught in a classroom

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