Phonics returns

In Britain, Education Secretary Ruth Kelly has told schools to go back to teaching phonics “amid growing concern that one in five 11-year-olds is unable to read or write properly.” Kelly was influenced by a study in Scotland that found students taught phonics ended up “3½ years ahead of their normal reading age.”

Update: The Telegraph blames centralized control for the disastrous literacy policy.

The National Literacy Strategy, the Government’s response to mass illiteracy launched in 1998, adopted the whole-word method and imposed it on every school in the land.

David Blunkett, the Education Secretary who introduced the Literacy Strategy, promised to resign in 2002 unless 80 per cent met the expected standard of English on leaving primary school. The target has never been met, but Mr Blunkett long ago moved on to higher things.

The Telegraph wonders what other education advances might be developed if local innovation were tolerated.

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  1. While phonics is what works, the larger problem is the existance of an Education Secretary. Will the next one decide to reverse this decision? There’s no way of knowing and there’d be no stopping the implementation of the decision.

    Having invested all that decision-making power in the hands of one person, one person’s mistake becomes everyone’s mistake.

  2. Anthony says:

    One of the problems with “local control” is that it guarantees there will be schools which use the “whole-word” method, or whatever other awful educational fad captured the imagination of some educrat in the past 40 years.

    One of the problems of centralized control is the risk that *every* school will be forced to propagate such idiocy.

  3. With centralized control there isn’t any risk of every school being forced to propogate idiocy. It’s a certainty since, sooner or later, you’ll get an idiot at the top.

    What you see as a problem for local control is mostly a fault on your part for not thinking the situation through.

    Sure, there’ll be the occasional Karl Marx Academy or Wiccan School or Flat Earth Society Learning Tree but all of them are dependent on a sufficient number of parents, within a reasonable distance, who are willing to commit their kids to the ministrations of these schools over multi-year periods. That’s a pretty tough hurdle for fringy outfits to leap.

    Mommies and daddies who want a trifle less emphasis on dialectical materialism and the class struggle and a bit more on arithmetic will, if their desires aren’t met, move their little comrade to an idealogically less pure school that teaches him how to count past twenty without getting arrested for indecent exposure.

    Over time, Karl Marx Academy will either bend enough to satisfy a critical mass of parents or it’ll be gone.

    There’s another effect that’ll result from independent schools. To illustrate:

    What do you call two sailboats on a lake?

    A race.

    Independent schools will both attempt to differentiate themselves from surrounding schools while competing with them on common requirements. Thomas Edison Science School won’t have much of a dance program and Fred Astaire Music and Dance Academy won’t have cyclotron in the basement but both of them had damn well better cover the basics.

    Sure, there’ll be parents who won’t give a damn if their kid can read so long as she can take a horse over a dresage course in Olympic fashion but the majority of parents will want their kids to some reliable set of basic educational attaintments.

    Where those disparate schools intersect, you’ll have at least competence and quite possibly competition, as well as a reflexive resistance to edu-fads.

  4. I agree with Allen’s comments; in fact my one of my regular rants concerns the “Good Emperor” syndrome. Under a good emperor Rome could prosper for a while, but everyone knew that the next emperor might be mad or bad. The problem was systemic.

    I’m afraid much of the blame lies with Margaret Thatcher who introduced the National Curriculum. She admitted as much herself.

  5. Never forget too, that there were always more bad emperors than good ones.