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Study finds that phonic teaching benefits disadvantaged children

A large-scale study from the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) at the London School of Economics has found that teaching reading through ‘synthetic phonics’ is beneficial for children from poorer backgrounds or those without English as a first language, but provides no long-term benefits for the average child.

The CEP research paper, published Monday 25th April 2016 and co-authored by University of Surrey Professor of Economics Sandra McNally, compares the progress of more than 270,000 pupils and finds that the average child taught to read using methods other than ‘synthetic phonics’ lagged behind at age seven but had caught up by age eleven.

The study provides the first large-scale analysis of the effects of the synthetic phonics programme, and differs from earlier research in that it evaluates children’s progress at age eleven, using national test scores, rather than immediately after the completion of the phonics programme. The research team evaluates the impact of intensive teacher training in phonics on pupils’ attainment in teacher assessments and tests at age five, seven and eleven, using census information from the National Pupil Database.

They found significant effects on the average child at the age of five and seven, but these had disappeared by age eleven. However, children from poor family backgrounds or who did not speak English as a first language received significant long-term benefits from synthetic phonics.

The researchers conclude that the results justify the implementation of phonic teaching programmes, as it is relatively inexpensive compared with other initiatives such as cutting class sizes. It was also concluded that policy which introduced ‘synthetic phonic’ teaching has helped to reduce inequality and should improve social mobility in the long term.

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