I have now read through this latest Driver Youth Trust
report as flagged up by Helen Ward in the TES so I am now in a position to comment regarding the thrust of Helen Ward's piece that a 'focus on phonics' excludes children with SEND:
https://www.docdroid.net/YzTmu48/dyt-lo ... tml#page=5
Through the Looking Glass: Is universal provision what it seems?
In the foreword of the report, a paragraph says this:
Our aim is always to be practical. Therefore we have made a series of recommendations that we believe, if followed, will make real changes to the literacy landscape and to those learners with SEND, particularly those with literacy difficulties. We pride ourselves on being collaborative and so we welcome the views and opinions of others on the issues we have raised.
It is a valid exercise to have a close look at a number of relatively current reports from influential organisations to see what they may have to conclude and offer. The question then arises, does this DYT report add anything of any real substance to contribute to the picture of literacy in the country - particularly with SEND children's needs in minds? Has author, Chris Rossiter, provided a clear analysis of various reports and indicated a direction of travel that those in authority and influence would be well-advised to follow?
In the report it states:
An analysis of the text in 21 strategies, policies and initiatives from some of the leading educational and policy organisations in the country identified the following key themes:
• Confusion over which children and young people are the true focus of literacy improvement
• Lack of clarity around what is meant by disadvantage and a limited discussion of SEND
• Considerable positivity around the aspirations for children and young people, with suggestions for practice.
• Strategies that more readily focus on those children and young people who can ‘catch up’ with limited support, at the expense of more specialist strategies appropriate for SEND learners.
• Family background as the supposed reason behind failure to make progress, when in reality it is the failure to address the requirements of children and young people with SEND within the mainstream school system.
Let us assume that Chris and colleagues do indeed summarise these 21 reports accurately according to the bullet points above (although I would not rely on this, but for argument's sake, let's just move forwards), then here is the hypothesis stated in the report:
Our hypothesis is that most influential papers, including those written by think tanks and charities, have a theory of change that assumes strengthening the universally available offer of teaching phonics or grammar, and creating more literacy-enriched classrooms, will support all children and young people to reach an ‘appropriate level’ of literacy.
Our guess is that these papers are presented as being for all when in fact they are targeted only at the lowest two levels of the pyramid – which represents between 80% and 90% of children, i,e, those who will be able to read, write, speak and listen with relatively low-cost support and limited specialist input.
Why does this matter?
Approaches that focus on widely available models, such as good classroom teaching of phonics, handwriting, vocabulary building or targeted interventions (e.g. volunteer one-to-one reading and parental engagement), are of course immensely valuable. On the whole, they do benefit all children. However, what they will not do is ensure literacy for all.
Therefore, our premise is that those position papers that claim to be universal and for all actually focus on solutions for the first two groups of children and young people (see Figure 2) and ignore a significant number for whom literacy represents the greatest challenge.
The implications of this are that funding and policy decisions that have been developed in response to these papers may be poorly formed and only partially successful because of the failure to join the specialist and SEND approaches with the universal literacy agenda. This is a significant factor in our entrenched low levels of literacy.
Note - the emboldening and red colouring is added by me.
So - Chris Rossiter is suggesting that strengthening phonics or grammar universally, and creating more literacy-enriched classrooms, is only really targeted at 80% to 90% of children and that these things, it would seem will not benefit 10% to 20% of children. Really? Can he possibly be suggesting that the weakest and slowest learners, the learners with special needs and disabilities, will not benefit from universal training in these things, in universal provision in these things? Are these things not appropriate, in Chris's view, for the SEND children? Or is he simply saying that the authorities who have promoted these aspects of literacy provision do not intend for them to benefit the SEND children, or kid themselves that the SEND children will benefit. Either way, I'm already concerned by the hypothesis in this report.
Further, Chris links this with suggesting that SEND children may only benefit from greater funding and 'specialist input'. In order to evaluate these ideas, we would need to be practical and look at schools that have had no additional funding to provide the 'universal' literacy provision described above and examine whether they have addressed the needs of their SEND children well enough or at all in comparison with schools that have invested in specialist support.
The next mention that Chris makes of 'phonics' is on page 12 of the 21 pages. I think (please note that I'm working very quickly as I'm very busy), that this is the only mention of phonics in the whole report other than the statement above. Chris writes:
The use of phonics to support reading is one area the government has particularly emphasized, claiming that ‘almost all children, including those from deprived backgrounds, who have good teaching of phonics will learn the skills they need to tackle new words and real full texts … This includes children who find learning to read difficult, for example, those who have dyslexia’ (DfE, 2015, p.14).
Phonics is clearly an effective method of teaching children to decode, and this may support some children with SEND. However, there is no discussion of how to address requirements of those children for whom phonics proves ineffective and what alternatives there should be after phonics has been delivered well. Just ‘more phonics’ is not the answer.
The emboldening immediately above (Just 'more phonics is not the answer
') is not mine. It is emboldened in the text of the report. And if memory serves me correctly, this is the only place in the report where some content in the text is actually emboldened! I can't help but get the impression that Chris really does not appreciate the importance of phonics for all learners, including SEND children. I'm not only suggesting, but stating, that phonics is equally important for all and that guidance and training to improve technical knowledge and skills for literacy (phonics and grammar) - along with 'creating more literacy-enriched classrooms' DOES indeed aim to cater for all children regardless of disadvantage and regardless of SEND. Further, although Chris's report implies he is ambitious for SEND children by references to qualifications they can achieve with the correct support and accommodations, I'm not clear what he thinks SEND children should receive instead of
phonics to help them to read and write both in the short term and the longer term. This is why I think Chris is being entirely unambitious for the children to which he seems to refer.
Indeed, Chris himself notes this at a later stage in the report:
Schools (page 24)
Primary and secondary
In general, primary and early years settings are most often mentioned in relation to universal literacy, with the best primary schools teaching ‘virtually every child to read, regardless of the social and economic circumstances of their neighbourhoods, the ethnicity of their pupils, the languages spoken at home and most special needs or disabilities’ (Ofsted, 2011, p.10).
[My red and emboldening - so important is this statement by Ofsted.]
Which bit of this observation and statement by Ofsted does Chris (and his colleagues?) not understand?
At this point, I'll mention again the 1,138 schools in England in which 95% to 100% of children reached or exceeded the Year One Phonics Check benchmark. Again I ask, does Chris consider that these schools simply did not have a percentage of children with disadvantage and special needs of various descriptions?
This certainly does raise teacher-training and CPD issues - but in the field of phonics and foundational literacy
- the very field that Chris states is not suitable for all children with SEND. Chris takes the line that SEND children 'process information and progress developmentally in different ways
'. He states:
Losing the gap for SEND children and young people is complicated by the specific impact on learning because they process information and progress developmentally in different ways. For children with SEND, learning is not simply a matter of catching up. Such a view ignores or refuses to accept that some will never reach these standards. That is not to say, however, that those children cannot achieve through broader academic attainment at secondary, further or higher education. It may just mean they need an alternative method to demonstrate what they know and can do, rather than how well they can read and write – one that provides them with an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities and potential.
42% of all SEND pupils pass the KS1 phonics screening test compared to 86% who are not identified with SEND
However, Chris does value Quality First Teaching that benefits all learners. He states:
This isn’t about ‘closing the gap’ for children and young people who are disadvantaged. This is about having a well-managed school with Quality First Teaching that benefits all learners.
But in the same section he further states:
Phonics does not work for every learner. This needs to be accepted and alternative strategies for accessing literacy addressed, recognizing that failure to pass a phonics test at age 5 or 6 does not mean a learner is destined for failure.
My experience of many headteachers and teachers around the country is that lower pass rates in the Year One Phonics Check have actually alerted them to the possibility that they are simply not teaching as effectively as other schools - and that with more effective phonics teaching, virtually all the children will succeed regardless of differences - just as Ofsted has observed and reported! They are not going down the route of 'phonics does not work' for any of their children.
Now, what does Chris say with regard to alternative provision for these learners for whom he suggests that phonics 'does not work'? Following a section where he quotes from the well-known 'Read On Get On' campaign by Save the Children (known commonly as ROGO), Chris notes, quite rightly, that there is much emphasis on 'the love of reading' and the role of the parents and reading at home to raise levels of literacy. He's not the only one to notice this emphasis on 'love of reading' and the 'role of the parents' and I have to agree with Chris somewhat when he states, following his observations about the ROGO literature:
Many children with a SEND that affects reading, such as dyslexia, will never develop a love of reading. Indeed, they will often hate or fear it. They can be supported to develop a love of stories or of poetry or encouraged to develop a thirst for knowledge about any number of subjects, but these things can be accessed in other ways such as through auditory or visual media.
In addition, there are too many assumptions around disadvantage and literacy that can be stigmatizing – for example, that poor parents and families value literacy less by owning fewer books and reading less to their children.
It would seem that following not only the ROGO campaign, but also the wide-scale protestation about the introduction of the statutory Year One Phonics Check by 90+ children's authors and illustrators (headed up by the vociferously anti-phonics author, Michael Rosen) that Minister Nick Gibb went to some considerable trouble to balance his promotion of phonics provision with an emphasis on the importance of children's literature and encouraging a love of literature.
But Chris does not really address the alternative provision he thinks dyslexic and SEND children should receive to replace phonics.
In his report, Chris has this to say about the transition between Key Stages 2 and 3:
There have been calls for ‘post-primary school literacy issues’ to be addressed (All-Parliamentary Group for Education, 2011, p.4), and a need has been identified for ‘continuity in the teaching of literacy between primary and secondary schools to avoid alienating pupils with weaker literacy skills’ (National Literacy Forum, 2014, p.6). However, the extent to which secondary schools have capacity, in terms of teacher knowledge and skills or curriculum time, is not addressed. Overall, the role that secondary-phase education plays has been downplayed.
In addition, the focus for secondary schools is more likely to be on developing faculty-based approaches to improve literacy, for example by improving subject-specific vocabulary. This is especially challenging following the transition between Key Stages 2 and 3, and the additional demands of curricula and assessment.
Now, in part I agree with Chris's observation that there is a need for addressing 'teacher knowledge and skills' in the secondary sector (and Key Stage 2) but - probably much to Chris's horror - I actually call for ALL teachers to be trained and knowledge about the very complex code of the English language (the most complex alphabetic code in the world) AND how to teach and/or support any learners of any age and stage who need help, in reading and spelling (and even handwriting) - yes, in other words, in PHONICS. We haven't yet managed, as a country, to teach foundational literacy (phonics) well enough which is why only some schools are achieving the kind of levels that we need all schools to achieve.
You see, Sir Jim Rose carefully pointed out in his historic and internationally renowned report (Final Report, 2006) that it is the SAME alphabetic code knowledge and skills that all children require, including those children one might identify as 'dyslexic'. Reading and writing consists of this very complex alphabetic code and it needs to be taught very well.
Time and time again, Chris Rossiter in his report gives as an example of a SEND learner, the 'dyslexic' child. One cannot help get the impression that Chris has much empathy with dyslexic children and feels that their needs are not getting addressed. They're not in many cases. But one also gets the impression that Chris might include this group of learners as the group who are not well-served by phonics provision. But that is a misguided view.
In other words, there are some contradictions in Chris's report. One cannot dismiss some of his observations and suggestions out of hand - but the underpinning impression of his report is very worrying - that he does not consider the literacy provision officially and universally promoted and funded in England is fully relevant for SEND pupils.
But, at no time can I recall Chris calling for a full review of the quality and content of the Quality First teaching in schools. And this is what is needed.
Surely, if 1,138 schools can achieve higher results than all the others (a growing number year on year), this suggests that teachers in these schools are teaching their children with dyslexic tendencies and other learning challenges effectively, then we need to look at what are they doing to achieve this. In fact, whilst Chris highlights the 42% figure as the results of the SEND children in the check, he seems to have missed the fact that year-on-year, in England, more and more schools are looking like they are teaching effectively more and more of their children - just as Ofsted stated above!
I certainly agree with Chris that all of the reports have 'a commendable desire to improve literacy' - but I note that many reports, not just Chris's report - still continue to underestimate and even dismiss the huge importance of phonics and training provision for the whole teaching profession - which will surely benefit more and more learners - including the SEND children.
And whereas Chris is calling for the funding for more specialist dyslexia support, we also need a serious look at the quality and content of 'intervention' programmes - as some of these may be seriously wanting according to the research findings and when evaluated and compared amongst wider options.
The Driver Youth Trust itself, as I mentioned previously, is still providing literature with multi-cueing reading strategies discredited by research - especially damaging for the SEND children!!!