Friday, April 20, 2012

What keeps the anti-phonics lobby awake at night

There’s an opinion piece published in the TES today (20 04 2012) in the ‘What keeps me awake at night’ column, imploring Mr Gibb to ‘read up on phonics’.
Sadly, it’s yet another witless little anti-phonics diatribe from another benighted simpleton who advertises his ignorance of what phonics is from the start. He tells us that ‘synthetic phonics is where you blend two letters together to make one sound’ and then gives as an example ‘g’ and ‘r’ to make ‘gr’. Sorry, Anonymous, but you fell at the first fence. ‘Gr’ is not one sound; it’s two! And, if that really is the abysmal level of your understanding of what ‘synthetic phonics’ is, you really have no right at all to pontificate on the subject.
After that, it’s downhill all the way. There’s the usual assertion that reading is more than just phonics – as if teachers of synthetic phonics don’t know this. Of course, we do! We teach children to decode accurately so that they are able to read anything and everything. How long shall we be patient with this fool who ties his ear to no tongue but his own?
The evidence on the need for teaching phonics is not contradictory. It is overwhelming and has been for the past forty to fifty years. Unfortunately, until Mr Gibb came along, no government minister of any stripe was apprised of this and most, with the connivance of the various education departments, encouraged the teaching of the mixed methods which have been so comprehensively discredited by the research.
Most teachers are not experts in teaching phonics. Not by any stretch of the imagination! This isn’t because they are bad teachers. It’s because no-one has been training them in how to do it. That’s what Mr Gibb is attempting to address.
Poor Anon forgets that, when using the Dalek simile, the very word was made-up. The Grinch can hardly contain himself.
Amendment to the original posting: I initially believed that the author of the particular 'What keeps me awake at night' piece in the TES was David Marley. Mr Marley is in fact the deputy-editor at the TES and was not responsible for the article. As he has since informed me, the column was written by an anonymous contibutor and I have therefore made the necessary revisions.


  1. I'm delighted that you read the TES and, in particular, have engaged so passionately with the 'what keeps me awake' at night column. But, alas for your wonderfully witty headline, it's not written by me. All of the columns are written by teachers and almost all of them run anonymously. So, your complaint is with someone who is qualified to have an opinion, even though you obviously disagree with it.
    Best wishes, David Marley (deputy news editor of the TES).

  2. Thank you, David, for your gracious reply.
    I did ponder how I might link the ghost of Xmas past to now outdated methods of teaching reading but it was ridiculously clunky and wouldn't work. In any case, the ghost of Xmas past was on the right side that particular argument!
    It is though a real pity that the TES gives so much space to what is essentially the anti-phonics lobby. Methinks more balance is called for.

  3. Mr. Marley,
    Of course the author of the column has a right to his/her opinion, but I would question your use of the word "qualified." why publish an opinion that so clearly is based on a total lack of understanding of the subject matter?
    I taught History for many years. Japanese history, however, is something I know little about. If I were to write an opinion piece about an event in Japanese history and I had basic facts about that event all wrong, wouldn't it look a bit silly for a journal to publish it? Yet I frequently come across anti-synthetic phonics pieces which are full of misconceptions and errors about synthetic phonics.

  4. Well, phonics is something that definitely generates strong opinions on both sides of the debate. If either of you would like to write a response for publication, I'd be happy to consider it. I can be emailed at Best, David.

  5. Well, there's an offer you can't refuse, John :-)