ITT and synthetic phonics – collecting experiences

Questions relating to the efficacy of SSP in schools often return to the issue of how teachers were trained, and how they are trained now – as well as to the quality of CPD.

Many people who are in favour of the current approach to using SSP in schools seem to feel that it is not taught properly/enough/at all in ITT – or at least, their experiences suggest to them that this has been the case so far.

Yet apparently ITT programmes will fail Ofsted if they do not teach SSP, so presumably all are now doing so.

Is this discrepancy the result of a slight lag in the effect of all ITT programmes teaching how to use SSP? Or is it more complex (for instance, there could be different approaches to teaching the subject within different ITT courses, some of which prove more useful in the classroom than others). There are so many potential ways to teach SSP to ITT students, with potentially hugely varying results in how they might engage with it once they are teaching.

A deeply important question is – what about the TAs? Are they confident and knowledgeable in their support of children’s literacy?

NB I have no idea at all of the truth (if there is one – there could be many); this post is basically a call for information, from teachers, trainers, ITT students, and anyone else with an interest in/knowledge of past and current situations.

Please comment – this seems to me to be an area in which greater clarity might prove to be extremely helpful in removing some urban myths.

Edited to add: Andrew Davies sent me this, which does seem to allow for great variability:

ofsted SSPAnd to add: there ‘s a thread in the RRF forum on the issue here.

And: I spoke to Keith Turvey (of the University of Brighton) on Twitter, who pointed out that ‘most ITT time is in school now’ and also said: ‘Most [ITT courses] set out expectations for SSP like we do but the execution on the job is down to schools and trainee, and the quality of trainee experience and opportunity varies significantly IMO. Thus partnership key.’

These seem some of the most important practical points, to me.


11 thoughts on “ITT and synthetic phonics – collecting experiences

  1. Thus week I’ve asked 6 ITT students about phonics experience and one had seen a RWI lesson prior to starting the course rest had no knowledge at all.

    • Thank you. The question then is whether they were taught and have forgotten (if so hmmmm…) or if they were never taught at all. Benefit of doubt needed re students & vagueness, but still, worrying.

  2. If all training is in schools, the strength of the training still relies on the professional expertise within the school – or perhaps is based only on one SSP programme. Surely student-teachers should have a combination of generic knowledge and understanding about reading and spelling instruction to be able to evaluate programmes and practice – and then there are so few SSP programmes around that there should be some way for students and teachers to have information about them – their similarities and differences, their emphases and what practice looks like in real classrooms. I also suggest that Ofsted inspectors should be more widely knowledgeable about all the main SSP programmes and their core practices. Reading, spelling and handwriting instruction is THAT important.

    • I think you’re absolutely right. is there a published ‘guide to phonics programmes’ for students (& teachers & Ofsted) I wonder? If not, perhaps I could add *yet* another page to this blog with some summaries & comparisons.

  3. A “dirty little secret” is that ITT profs collectively and few profs individually know how to teach their students how to reliably teach kids how to read. That’s unfortunate, but it’s a “never mind, no worry” matter, insofar as reliable reading instruction is concerned. We have to work with the graduates ITTs are turning out and the teachers we have, not those that we would like them to turn out and would like to have. Further, few HTs believe that their staffs need more training.

    That’s not to say there is are no disconnects between how teachers are taught and what the students they teach learn. Only to say it really doesn’t take extensive specialized training to reliably teach a child to read. Home-schoolers with no specialized training can do it, and run-of-the-mill teenagers who can pass the Yr 1 Screening Check have the necessary prerequisites.

    The “reading problem,” as well as its “fix,” is more immediate. The resolution is in available PSC data that have not been synthesized or analyzed. The action is at the school and classroom level. Whatever the bulk of schools and teachers say they are doing, not all of their Yr 1 children are “passing” the PSC (which is a low “pass-bar”), and not all of their children can pass after Yr 2. Whatever these teachers are doing is “not right,” and to find out what they are doing all that has to be done is to ask them what programme(s) and instructional procedures they’re using.

    The resulting information would also stimulate concern for the differences, similarities, and characteristics of SSP programmes that Debbie calls for. It’s upside-down route to use kids’ data to educate Ofsted inspectors and ITT professors, but it’s workable rather than wishful.

    • I do find it disconcerting; I’m sure there must be parallels in other areas of academia, but I can’t think of one. Sometimes I think the academic tendency to wrangle over details can give a misleading impression, so that views which are absolutely appropriate to academic investigation end up giving the impression that the scholar concerned is ‘anti’ phonics, when really they’re picking at a specific philosophical or theoretical issue. Other times, however, it seems to me that people really are rejecting the use of phonics – and I know that in the past they have done so vehemently.

      Academic uncertainty is vulnerable to misuse (deliberately or accidentally), by people outside academia who don’t have experience of the slightly artificial suspension of certainty required in order to see things differently, and discover/rethink things in one’s own discipline.

      I regularly come across a lack of clarity about phonics which seems to lead to a distrust in it.

      This is not to say that an informed opinion will always be positive, especially in relation to the *ways* in which phonics knowledge is taught. The methods have clearly evolved over the years (the used of decodable readers being a huge improvement, in my own view). But there always seems to be slippage between these two things: the knowledge itself, and the ways that it is codified and taught by each programme.

      I feel that clarity about, and comparisons between, the different programmes’ pedagogical approaches would be really illuminating.

      Oh – and I think that to be really worth doing, the PSC should be all nonsense words, and the reasons for this should be made very clear.

  4. Amen, to all of that.

    However, I wouldn’t knock the PSC. True, all pseudo-words would be better, but anti-phonatics scream at any nonsense words. As a matter of “evidence,” it doesn’t matter. Item results on the Check are a function of the structure of the Alphabetic Code, rather than differences of “meaning” of the words. The irony is that the DfE suspended collecting item data after 2013. The meat of the PSC is at the item level of testing and at the school level of instruction, both of which are going unanalyzed.

  5. The second column of these Tables, labeled “Discrimination,” is also informative. This is the correlation of the item with the Check total score. High values are the best indicators of what the test as a whole is measuring. They also indicate which items are the best indicators for distinguishing between low and high performance.

    As with item difficulty, it’s not in the meaning; it’s in the structure of the Alphabetic Code.

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