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Literacy: Publishing

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (1) on what basis publishers are included in the list of publishers and their programmes in the choosing a phonics programme: publishers and their programmes section of his Department’s standards site; (149871)

(2) whether he plans to assess the effectiveness of the letters and sounds programme against alternative synthetic phonics programmes;

(3) whether the letters and sounds programme was piloted prior to its adoption by the primary national strategy;

(4) what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Letters and Sounds programme developed by the PNS;

(5) what steps his Department is taking to encourage the adoption of effective synthetic phonics programmes in primary schools;

(6) what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the phonics programmes listed on the choosing a phonics programme: publishers and their programmes section of his Department’s standards site.

The Department launched a new phonics area of the standards website in March this year. The website contains published criteria to help schools and early years settings judge how well phonics teaching programmes meet the characteristics of high quality phonic work as defined in Sir Jim Rose’s review of the teaching of early reading. To ensure that this process is as easy and useful as possible for schools and settings we have invited publishers of commercial programmes to evaluate their own programme against the criteria and complete a self-assessment form which is then published on the site. This is a purely voluntary process.

The Department does not rank, endorse or promote any particular commercial phonics programme. We have committed to establishing a monitoring process to assess the accuracy of the information provided in the self-evaluation forms. This process is currently being developed and further information about how it will work will be provided on the website.

Letters and Sounds is one of many high quality phonics teaching programmes that meet the core criteria and we are not promoting it as the preferred phonics programme. An early version of the materials was previewed in some local authorities and with practitioners and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Letters and Sounds was distributed to all primary schools and local authorities during May and June. It will therefore take some time for the full effects to become known but we are confident that Letters and Sounds will make a significant contribution to improving standards of literacy. Initial feedback from practitioners indicates a very positive response to the materials and we will use this information to further refine our support for local authorities. The primary national strategy is monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of Letters and Sounds and Sir Jim Rose has been asked to report back at the end of the year on the implementation of his recommendations, including on Letters and Sounds.

Systematic, high-quality phonics is proven to be the most effective way of teaching children to read and is an integral part of the renewed primary literacy framework and the early years foundation stage. The resources and guidance on the phonics website provide schools and early years settings with the tools they need to make informed decisions about which high quality phonics programme will best suit their needs. The primary national strategy’s communication language and literacy development programme, which builds on the successful Early Reading Development Pilot, was developed to implement the recommendations of Sir Jim’s review. The programme began in autumn 2006. Through the programme, every local authority now has a local CLLD lead who will work to strengthen leadership and management of early literacy and support all primary schools and early years settings in the use of an effective phonics programme.