An article titled ‘Sounds like this phonics scheme has started badly’ in the TES today by Helen Ward provides some decidedly revealing insights into what is going wrong in getting schools to take up match funding for phonics.As the piece points out, match funding isn’t ‘free’ money. For every pound provided by the government, the school also has to commit a pound, and the latest statistics show that the lion’s share of the match funding money is being spent on phonics ‘products’, ‘products’ being books and other resources. Only a third of the money spent on resources is being spent on training and, thus far, in this respect, there has been a pitifully disappointing take-up of the funding offer.
Why is this? The general-secretary of the NAHT Russell Hobby’s response provides deep insight into the mindset of many head teachers when he is quoted as saying that the scheme ‘hasn’t been rejected but you can’t expect every school to need them’. The ‘them’ refers of course to resources, not to training. He goes on to say that ‘every school teaches phonics already and all have a lot of material. A minority of schools will need to refresh their materials, but when budgets are tight they are not going to waste their money.’
What is clear from this is that he sees the match funding offer from the government as an opportunity (or not) to buy resources. He doesn’t consider that schools need phonics training. And, this is precisely where he is wrong! All the evidence we have from the thousands of teachers we have trained on our courses points to the fact that training in how to teach reading and spelling is exactly what they do need.
What Nick Gibb does need to do is to maintain focus on making sure that children in the early years are taught properly. To that end, he has introduced the Y1 phonics screening check, to be introduced in June. Will he publish the results school by school?