Sheila Mulvenney, Director, Attuned Education Ltd

The 2018 Functional skills reforms have brought about a number of changes to the curriculum. One which has caused some debate is the introduction of phonics in the English Functional Skills curriculum.

As a phonics trainer I welcome this but I am also aware of the need for planning preparation and training if the reforms are yield the desired outcome – helping learners build their reading skills.

In recent history there have been two broad approaches to teaching reading:

1. Whole language approach

A whole language approach which concentrates, as the title suggests on whole words, (sometimes called a look-say approach) using a range of strategies like flash cards, repetition and word shapes to ‘teach’ children whole words.

In this method little attention is paid to learning strategies for spelling, though some guidelines or rules, which rarely work in every situation, may be used to assist learning.

This method encouraged ‘guessing’ based on accompanying pictures or the first letter of the word and relies heavily on memory and this has been shown to be less effective as a method for teaching reading than a phonic approach.

2. Phonics approach

Though it is recognised that there are two strands to reading, word recognition and language comprehension – phonics is concerned primarily with word recognition.

With phonics the emphasis is on the sounds and how these sounds are represented in written form by letters. Learners are taught how to blend the sounds represented by letters together to read words and separate or segment the sounds they hear in words to write and spell the words. The emphasis in this approach is on developing skills to decode words rather than memorise whole words.

Every word we say consists of sounds and as we represent these sounds in written form, every word is decodable. It’s a bit like teaching someone how to dig a well to access water as opposed to giving them a few bucketsful. Once they have the skills any word can be read or spelled.

The phonics approach recommended by the government to be used in schools is systematic synthetic phonics where learners are taught how to spell the 44 commons sounds of the English language using combinations of the 26 letters of the alphabet in a systematic way.

The Rose Report emphasises "the importance of phonics as the prime approach to teaching word recognition for the vast majority of children, including those with English as an additional language.”

Advertisement

There also exists analytic phonics where the sound symbol correspondence is inferred by comparing words rather than explicit teaching, but this has not been found to be as effective as systematic synthetic phonics (SSP). 

Schools

Having taught a 4 day Sounds-Write phonics course to teachers and staff in a number of schools it is my observation would be that that many teachers in primary schools are not themselves well versed in phonics – something borne out by the (relatively small) study "From training to teaching early language and literacy The effectiveness of training to teach language and literacy in primary schools", which found “not enough new teachers had consistent high quality training during initial teacher education and induction to ensure that they developed good teaching skills, underpinned by a deep understanding of language development and the acquisition of literacy skills.”

In many secondary schools there are often no teachers who have the necessary skills and knowledge to teach a student to read or know where to start with a student who struggles to read and spell, and there are many such students.

These students somehow manage to get through the whole of their primary education and still not be able to read, surely one of the most fundamental tasks of education.

In secondary school every lesson will present problems as students may be unable to access many aspects of the curriculum. There may also be the constant fear of humiliation at not having mastered a skill that others have conquered with ease, and this in turn might lead to behavioural issues as well as issues with self-esteem.

We also know that poor literacy rates are linked to social isolation, reduced job prospects, and even imprisonment, surely it is time as educators that we got it right and ensure that every child (unless there is a significant cognitive impairment) leaves school being able to read.

Post 16

When a student who either can’t read or struggles to read or spell (which is not related to intelligence and ability but often rather to the learning approaches and effectiveness of teaching methods they have been exposed to) starts college or an apprenticeship they do so often with a firm belief that they have or are the problem.

They believe that there is something wrong with them because they were never able to ‘crack the code’ of reading.

So, while they may be delighted to be studying a vocational course of their choice, they will probably be dismayed that they must continue trying to gain a qualification in functional skills English.

To add insult to their already low self esteem, anyone who has tried to teach them using a phonic approach will have found it hard to access age appropriate resources.

Thankfully now some have been developed – even a set of decodable readers for adults and I’m sure more will be on the way.

What needs to happen now

I know from experience that using SSP is effective, as both initial teaching strategy when children are in reception and for those who slip though the net. I am delighted that phonics is now part of the functional skills English curriculum. But I have some concerns for the staff who will deliver this.

They will probably never have been taught phonics in their teaching studies and may not have been taught to read themselves using a phonic approach. Because they can read, write and spell we must not assume they will be able to teach phonics without first learning it themselves.

As effective readers our skills are automatic and many readers will find it hard to sound out a word and will only use their decoding skills when faced with an unfamiliar word.

As effective readers that doesn’t matter, they have the skills to read – but to teach phonics they will need to be able to identify and teach these skills.

The importance of staff who teach functional skills being given the time and resources to be able to teach it effectively is of vital importance.

Their students have already experienced years of failure and frustration. We could say they have already been badly let down by a school system they have been in for 10 years plus yet one which lets them leave without functional literacy skills.

We need to make absolutely sure they are not put in a position where this can happen again so it is essential that those responsible for delivery of the English functional skills curriculum make sure staff who will deliver are equipped to carry out this crucial task with the confidence that comes for knowledge and personal skill development.

Sheila Mulvenney, Director, Attuned Education Ltd

You may also be interested in these articles:

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Advertisers

Newsroom Activity

Jo Moriani added a new event 2 hours

Exploring the new legal entitlement - Essential Digital...

Overview Gateway Qualifications was the first Awarding Organisation to complete Ofqual’s technical evaluation of the Essential Digital Skills and to...

  • Thursday, 20 August 2020 02:00 PM
  • Online

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.

Podcasts

We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.

Events

FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page