Phonics ‘fundamentalism’ is based on flawed science, says education expert

Tes reports that the way reading is being taught has “disturbing and potentially destructive consequences” for teachers and pupils, warns Dr Andrew Davis, honorary research fellow at the University of Durham’s school of education.

Synthetic phonics teaches children to sound out letters and blend those sounds into actual words and is the government’s favoured reading method for primary school pupils.

In a new book, Dr Davis says: “It really does look as though they are trying to make all teachers teach all pupils in a particular way, regardless of what those teachers know of individual differences and needs”.

He adds that giving children who are already reading “a rigid diet of intensive phonics could make a destructive impact on their emerging identities as persons”.

It is wrong to claim that science can show the best way of teaching reading, according to Dr Davis, who says: “The legitimate authority of [science] has been extended to domains where it has no place. Popular culture – and even educational research – sometimes endorse this aberration”.

Dr Davis “used phonics in all shapes and sizes” during his time as a primary school teacher and says “this aspect of supporting early readers seemed like basic common sense”.

But a “fundamentalism” has sprung up around the issue, where unless you teach only synthetic phonics “for a period of time for early readers, you are in fact deemed to be against it”.

Read the full article Phonics ‘fundamentalism’ is based on flawed science, says education expert

Do you agree with Dr. Andrew Davis? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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Categories: Infant, Learning, Pre-school, Primary and Teaching.


  1. Illiteracy rates in UK,US, Australia,New Zealand are scandalous and a blight on life chances of millions. Unfortunately, many teachers in the UK are still wedded to ‘light’ phonics with multi-cueing strategies leaving weak readers in a state of confusion. Yet schools in deprived areas with understanding of the importance of the alphabet code and its effective teaching through systematic synthetic phonics-with emphasis on reading and enthusiastic book culture- achieve outstanding results.Of the top 250 State Primaries, websites and stats of those in deprived areas amply demonstrate this fact.

  2. Jennifer Chew

    If Andrew Davis is right, why did the National Literacy Trust find, in a survey conducted at the end of 2016, that children’s enjoyment of reading was at its highest level ever? The report did not directly link this with the increased emphasis on phonics, but the dates show that children’s enjoyment of reading has increased rather than diminished since initiatives such as the Year 1 phonics screening check were introduced..

  3. Anne Kathryn Marlynne Grant

    The alphabetic code is a body of knowledge that all children need to know. We would not attempt to teach maths without first teaching numbers. Schools that teach systematic synthetic phonics well pay great attention to individual differences and needs. They identify strugglers very early on and put in extra practice and teaching straight away. Research findings show that these strugglers can close the gap by the end of Reception with whole classes of children above age norms for reading and spelling. Systematic synthetic phonics can be taught in a multisensory way which takes account of individual strengths and weaknesses, the teaching is active and interactive which engages and motivates children and there is built in repetition and reinforcement to support those with poor memories. I do not know of any evidence that synthetic phonics ‘damages early readers’ and puts them off education and reading for pleasure. Dr Marlynne Grant

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