Friday, February 03, 2012

More on the take-up of match funding

An article titled ‘Sounds like this phonics scheme has started badly’ in the TES today by Helen Ward provides some decidedly revealing insights into what is going wrong in getting schools to take up match funding for phonics.As the piece points out, match funding isn’t ‘free’ money. For every pound provided by the government, the school also has to commit a pound, and the latest statistics  show that the lion’s share of the match funding money is being spent on phonics ‘products’, ‘products’ being books and other resources. Only a third of the money spent on resources is being spent on training and, thus far, in this respect, there has been a pitifully disappointing take-up of the funding offer.
Why is this? The general-secretary of the NAHT Russell Hobby’s response provides deep insight into the mindset of many head teachers when he is quoted as saying that the scheme ‘hasn’t been rejected but you can’t expect every school to need them’. The ‘them’ refers of course to resources, not to training. He goes on to say that ‘every school teaches phonics already and all have a lot of material. A minority of schools will need to refresh their materials, but when budgets are tight they are not going to waste their money.’
What is clear from this is that he sees the match funding offer from the government as an opportunity (or not) to buy resources. He doesn’t consider that schools need phonics training. And, this is precisely where he is wrong! All the evidence we have from the thousands of teachers we have trained on our courses points to the fact that training in how to teach reading and spelling is exactly what they do need.
The same lack of understanding is evidenced in Christine Blower’s contribution to the issue. She tells us that ‘many schools will already have well-resourced and planned reading/literacy schemes, which are relevant to the pupils in that school and are well used and well understood by the teachers’. This is highly debatable. How many schools have bought decodable books for their beginning readers and how well do teachers know how they should be used? Sounds-Write’s argument has consistently been that teachers need proper phonics training, without which they will always be prone to giving misguided instruction. If a child can’t read or has very poor reading skills, that child needs expert tuition, tuition that teachers are only able to provide if they’ve been trained to give it.
If the TES is going to interview figures like Blower and Hobby, surely they ought to be employing journalists who have a thorough knowledge of the subject under discussion and who are able to interrogate their interviewees much more rigorously. Moreover, they need to interview people in the field who have expertise and can defend their views by recourse to evidence.
Ward’s coda provides yet another example of the kind of lazy journalism we have come to expect from the TES when they choose to include a piece on phonics. What she suggests is that if Nick Gibb ‘wants to see universal take-up of his initiative, [he] ought to drop the match-funding element and just give the schemes away’. This would involve the wholesale government funding of decodable books for schools, as well as funding all the training providers considered by the government to be delivering high quality phonics training. The throwaway flippancy of her conclusion to the article is plainly an absurdum, given where we are in the process.
What Nick Gibb does need to do is to maintain focus on making sure that children in the early years are taught properly. To that end, he has introduced the Y1 phonics screening check, to be introduced in June. Will he publish the results school by school?

1 comment:

  1. As an Educational Psychologist who goes daily into schools I can assure these authors of this article in the TES that many schools typically believe they are already 'doing phonics' and children are continuing through KS2 with poor or no literacy skills.

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