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Last Updated: Monday, 17 December 2007, 13:43 GMT
Study spells success for phonics
Synthetic phonics
Pupils were found to make more rapid progress under the system
Primary school pupils in Scotland who learned to read using synthetic phonics were ahead of English youngsters using a different method, a study has found.

Researchers compared the literacy levels of 10-year-old Clackmannanshire pupils with others in England.

Those south of the border were behind their Scottish counterparts on both spelling and reading comprehension.

The synthetic phonics method involves showing how letter sounds blend together to make words.

It was compared with the National Literacy Strategy Scheme Progression in Phonics, also known as analytic phonics.

Traditional teaching methods have followed the analytic phonics method, which puts emphasis on pupils learning the first letter of words.

The children in the Clackmannanshire study were reading words about two years ahead of what would be expected for their age
Prof Rhona Johnston

In Clackmannanshire, children were taught to blend letter sounds throughout words within weeks of starting school.

In England, children learning by the National Literacy Strategy programme began to sound and blend words at the end of their first year at school or at the start of their second year.

The evidence suggested that exposing pupils to the process of sounding and blending in synthetic phonics early made the technique more successful.

'Letters and sounds'

Professor Rhona Johnston, an honorary professor at the University of St Andrews, said: "The children in the Clackmannanshire study were reading words about two years ahead of what would be expected for their age.

"Their spelling was six months ahead of what you would expect for their age, and their reading comprehension was about right for age.

"However, although the pupils in England from similar backgrounds were reading words about right for their age, their spelling was 4.5 months below what is expected for age, and reading comprehension was about seven months behind."

Dr Joyce Watson, an honorary research fellow at the Fife university, said the study had been influential in guiding advice given to primary school teachers in England on how to teach reading.

She added: "The House of Commons Education and Skills Select Committee in 2005 recommended that a similar study be carried out in England, and in 2006 the Rose Review recommended that all children should learn to read by a systematic synthetic phonics approach.

"The Primary National Strategy has now introduced a new programme called Letters and Sounds, which uses the approach we used in Clackmannanshire."

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