Phonics, Collaboration and Professional Practice.

I shall assume that your silence gives consent. 

– Plato.

Yesterday’s post highlighted the teaching of phonics and the three teaching unions that are protesting about the new phonics tests.

Leaders of three teachers’ unions have written to MPs urging a rethink of the phonics checks for six-year olds in England’s schools.

The unions say the controversial tests are an expensive way to tell schools what they already know and will do nothing to improve children’s reading.

It’s been a source of frustration for many teachers for many years that their professional associations have failed to work together in opposing the efforts of politicians to take control of schools, the curriculum and pedagogy.

Neither have they worked together (as teachers do in Finland, for example) on establishing good pedagogic practice and an outline curriculum. This failure has left the door wide open for politicians to barge in and impose their ideologies, methodologies and demands.

Of course it’s difficult to get any consensus amongst teachers when it comes to their professional practice. Regrettably many teachers come into the profession because they admired their own teachers and wanted to follow in their footsteps, using ‘traditional’ methods of didactic practice within strict subject boundaries. Such teachers may have little interest in re-thinking the purposes of education or in re-thinking pedagogy.

Nevertheless, it’s incredible that there’s been so little professional dialogue, debate and consensus-seeking down the years. Children deserve better than to have a disunited profession whose professional associations are often in competition and mainly concerned with salaries, conditions of service, and legal protection for their members. Do teachers’ staff associations agree that the profession’s main concern should be the wellbeing and achievements of children and young people, which is hopefully why teachers came into the profession in the first place? If so, it’s time to make clear the unions’ concern for children and young people – first and foremost.

The new phonics test (and the demand to use only ‘synthetic phonics’ as the sole ‘method’) could never have been contemplated, let alone introduced, if there was already in place a clear professional agreement about the place of phonics in the teaching of reading, and about the place of the other cueing systems that are required for fluent reading.

There should also have been, by now, a model system for tracking children’s progress in learning and using phonics and in using the other cueing systems – grapho-phonic, syntactic and semantic. A one-off test such as the new phonics test (or ‘check’) is useless as a form of day to day formative assessment of children’s strengths and weaknesses. Plainly it’s simply another government tool for judging ‘attainment’ and making summative statements about individual schools and teachers. It’s all a nonsense, of course, since the average inexperienced Reception teacher can’t possibly be expected to teach reading as well as a good experienced teacher, and yet schools would rather have an inexperienced Reception teacher than no teacher at all. (The same applies to Year 6 SATs, obviously, and that’s another battle the unions should have fought and won.)

3Di hereby offers to work with any staff association that sees the need to develop a model planning and tracking system for teaching reading. The technology is available. This is not rocket science.

3Di is also willing to facilitate further discussions by any staff associations that see the need to work together more collaboratively towards a model of professional cooperation on matters of pedagogy and the curriculum. Our starting point will be discussions with colleagues in Finland to learn from their experiences and successes in setting professional standards and expectations regarding pedagogy, assessment and the curriculum.

The needs and rights of children and teachers demand that these developments take place.

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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2 Responses to Phonics, Collaboration and Professional Practice.

  1. 3D Eye says:

    “chlldren” and “innuit”? Need we say more? The only way to read these words [above] is to figure them out using the syntactic and semantic cues available. This is the first time I’ve come across the word “chlldren”, and yet I figured it out without the “aid” of synthetic phonics. This is what children who are “reading” and not just “decoding” actually do. They look for sense, and get confirmation of their sense-getting with reference to the various letters in the new or unknown word, whether or not it’s spelt correctly. If the word happens to be mis-spelt or non-existent they still use their knowledge of language to make sense of the sentence. “Decoders”, on the other hand, don’t necessarily concern themselves with whether the text and their “decoding” actually makes any sense.

    We don’t need to read “the vast literature” that supports the exclusive use of “synthetic phonics” – there’s an equally vast literature that supports a more intelligent approach to teaching reading. Our vast experience of actually teaching children tells us that it’s absurd to force children to read exclusively through this so-called method. You may well be right to say that 15% – 20% of children do best through an emphasis on phonics, in which case it makes sense to stress a phonics approach with those children, whilst not preventing them using other cueing systems if they choose to use them.

    However, I still wouldn’t use your “programme [that] consists of over 150 decodable readers that support synthetic phonics” – as you put it on your website (which we would encourage 3Di readers to take a look at). Perhaps we can agree that as a publisher of “decodable readers” rather than real books you have a somewhat biased view and – let’s say – a vested interested in pushing “synthetic phonics”. Instead of publishing books that “support synthetic phonics” you might consider publishing books that support the enjoyment of stories as well as the pleasure of learning to read using ‘methods’ appropriate to children of all abilities, aptitudes and learning styles.


  2. It is a pity that the commentators have never seen the effects of multi-strategy teaching on the 15%-20% who fail. Those of us who tutor these chlldren see one characteristic above all else: the mixed-cueing strategies leaves these children completely at sea. These are not the children who, without any formal instruction, or with a little, can innuit the code. The same muddle can be seen in the ‘balanced’ approach in the States, and strong constructivist approach in Australia. These are our ‘discards’.
    I expect that you have read the vast literature on the subject – Chall, Adams, Perfetti,Stanovich,McGuinness and have read the findings of the Australian, US and UK enquiries into the teaching of reading.


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