Daily Telegraph · letter names or sounds and spellings · Review of Early Years Foundation Stage

The EYFS review

Yesterday’s Telegraph is reporting that the sixty-nine targets set by the previous Labour government for children to reach by the age of five – the so-called ‘nappy curriculum’ – are to be reviewed.
First on the list to go should be the insistence that children in nursery, YR and Y1 learn letter names. Ten years ago, the advice given to schools was that letter names should be taught at the end of Y1/beginning of Y2. This was about right, though perhaps for one or two children it was still too soon.
Saying letter names does not help children to read and spell – a fact that the people who devised Letters and Sounds seem not to understand. Take the word ‘Sam’. Simply repeating the letter names ‘es’ ‘ay’ ’em’ does not help a reader to hear the word ‘Sam’. In fact, a child can say those letter names until they are blue in the face and they will never get to ‘Sam’. For words with more complex spellings, this strategy is even more ridiculous. Take the word ‘house’. If the reader uses the letter names ‘aitch’ ‘oe’ ‘ue’ ‘es’ ‘ee’, it is impossible to hear ‘house’.
On the other hand, if the name ‘Sam’ is read by sound, ‘s’ ‘a’ ‘m’, the reader can hear the word ‘Sam’. Similarly, with ‘house’, hearing the word is easy if the reader says ‘h’ ‘ow’ ‘s’. [I once stood next to a teacher ‘helping’ a child read the word ‘little’. She told the child to say the sounds ‘l’ ‘i’ ‘t’ ‘t’ ‘l’ ‘e’ and then wondered why the child sat looking at the word uncomprehendingly!] Naturally, in the case of ‘house’, it goes without saying that the pupil is going to need to be taught that the sound ‘ow’ is represented by the two-letter spelling and also that the sound ‘s’ can be spelt .
All this, of course, presupposes that the teacher understands the way the sound system of the language relates to the writing system and therein lies much of the problem. Most teachers are still not being trained to teach how the two are linked. The writing system for English is complex. However, as Sounds-Write and the Sound Reading System have shown, it can be taught very successfully indeed and to all children if it taught from simple to more complex over a period of time. Teachers need to be properly trained and their pupils must be given the amount of practice they require to become proficient.