Olivia O'Sullivan · phonics · TES

Wud a litrasy expurt no a gud cwalitee phonix program if thay sore won?

Not content with traducing phonics on its front page, the TES also decided to devote their ‘Insight’ section of Friday’s paper (page 25) to Olivia O’Sullivan in order to do another caricature.
O’Sullivan has penned a piece entitled ‘Wood a child tawt to reed using phonix alone notis anything wrong with this hedline?’ Like the spelling of the headline, her article is a travesty of what good quality phonics teaching is about.
She begins by claiming that ‘the most fervent supporters’ of synthetic phonics argue that ‘the forty-four sounds of the English alphabet system … be taught before a child has any contact with books or is “taught” whole words’. Leaving aside the somewhat loose language, her statement is a blatant distortion of common practice in synthetic phonics teaching. I cannot think of a single synthetic phonics programme that withholds books from children until they have learned the spellings for the forty-four or so sounds in the English language.
All of the best-known advocates of synthetic phonics in fact are involved in encouraging the production of phonic (decodable) readers for children, as well as inspiring the reading of a wide variety of rich literary texts to their own children and the children they teach.
As the most perfunctory of glances at the websites of any of the providers of synthetic phonics programmes will reveal, O’Sullivan’s claim is utterly without foundation. If she is unable to bring herself to examine these websites, she could at least visit the government’s website, where their ‘self evaluation’ form lists as one of its criteria the following:
“ensure that, as early as possible, children have opportunities to read texts (and spell words) that are within the reach of their phonic knowledge and skills even though every single word in the text may not be entirely decodable by the children unaided.”
As any phonics practitioner knows, providing beginning readers with decodable texts is the surest way to fluency.
However, what is at the heart of O’Sullivan’s critique of synthetic phonics is her claim she has seen a huge ‘growth’ in ‘phonetic’ spelling. You might think that this would be a real step in the right direction; after all you can at least decipher words spelt phonetically, as opposed to the indecipherable invented spelling so highly regarded by whole language proponents. Tomorrow, I’ll be examining what she means by this and what this entails for good quality phonics advocates.