I have always been highly critical of the advent of 'Letters and Sounds' as I have maintained from its first publication that, in reality, it was never the 'high quality six phase phonics programme' that it was entitled.
By my personal definition of what a phonics 'programme' should provide - certainly in modern times - It was only ever a detailed framework, not a programme as such. It has no teaching and learning resources.
The guidance capitalised on some phonics provision at that time - existing 'systematic synthetic phonics' (SSP) provision in some schools, which was successful via various commercial SSP programmes.
The INTENT of the, then, government, and its authors, was good - laudable - although naive. The NOTION of providing a government programme (that was not really a programme) was not well-founded (in my opinion).
As a resourceless publication, it required translating and equipping by teachers - people already very busy and time-poor as being a teacher with extensive curriculum demands and formal accountability in modern times, is overwhelming.
Teachers were told that they could choose their own commercial SSP programme, or they could use their own in-house SSP provision - but many teachers did not heed this suggestion. The 'official' status of 'Letters and Sounds' was very influential - powerful. It seemingly transcended the common-sense view of 'but what about teaching and learning resources?'.
Instead, teachers equipped their phonics provision, based on 'Letters and Sounds', with all manner of resources and practices. Some of their phonics resources were commercially-produced from full SSP programmes such as the frieze and the flashcards.
A number of organisations created websites providing free, or paid for, resources to equip 'Letters and Sounds'. Teachers may have used these well and effectively for all the children, but many children did not fare so well.
In effect, much SSP provision was bordering on the 'pick and mix' variety that Sir Jim Rose (Final Report, 2006), and the, later, government, actually (ironically) warned about (in the match-funded phonics initiative catalogues, 2011 - 2013).
One of the reasons for some weaker phonics results in the statutory Year 1 'phonics screening check' (introduced in 2012) could be, arguably, the time factor. In 'Letters and Sounds', it was suggested 20 minutes was the timing for phonics lessons. I think this is too prescriptive, restricting and unrealistic to enable every child to get sufficient practice of learning and embedding the many letter/s-sound correspondences of the complex English alphabetic code - and to 'apply and extend' their code knowledge and phonics skills to reading and writing 'cumulative, decodable sentences, texts and reading books'.
And whilesoever some children, an increasing number, have managed to learn well enough to blend for reading and/or to orally segment for spelling with good handwriting, many others haven't. And the danger is that this weakness in learning and capability is considered to be entirely 'within-child' issues, rather than reflecting on the teaching provision and/or the actual phonics programme used, and/or quality of provision of the selected phonics programme (rigour, commitment, fidelity to programme).
March 2021: At long last, the current Department for Education in England has taken the bold step of making a statement that 'Letters and Sounds' never was a 'full SSP programme' and they have reversed their decision to produce a 'revised' version of 'Letters and Sounds'.
Thank you for your interest in the future of Letters and Sounds. We are now able to communicate a final position.
The 2007 Letters and Sounds handbook, published under the previous Government, has never been a full Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) programme. For a number of years, effective teaching using Letters and Sounds has relied on schools themselves building a programme around the handbook. Some schools have done this very successfully, and it was for this reason that schools achieving outstanding results using 2007 Letters and Sounds were included in the English Hubs programme in 2018. The Department recognises, however, that for many schools, especially those who need or want to improve their practice, 2007 Letters and Sounds is not fit for purpose and does not provide the support, guidance, resources or training needed.
The Department considered a variety of options for the future of Letters and Sounds and had originally commissioned a full SSP programme based on the 2007 Letters and Sounds handbook. As you may know from our previous communications, this would have included an updated order of progression addressing some of the flaws in the 2007 Letters and Sounds…..
….After careful consideration, the Department has decided that it should not continue with its involvement in this work. This in no way reflects the quality of the work produced, but the Department’s current policy is that SSP programmes should be created by teachers and phonics experts. This means that the Department will not publish a full Letters and Sounds programme, nor an updated progression.
We will, later this year, be publishing an early reading framework, which will be an important and comprehensive non-statutory guidance document to support the foundations of reading.
This is HUGE news, and it has implications for any schools internationally that have chosen 'Letters and Sounds' as their core SSP provision.
Teachers may have equipped it well, and they may deliver phonics very effectively for all the children - but I can testify that there are many teachers, even in England's context, who in 2021 are still finding they have to make their own cumulative resources to deliver the guidance in 'Letters and Sounds'.
Governments, in my view, simply should not publish educational PROGRAMMES when there are high-quality programmes available already. Further, if they do decide to provide programmes (bodies of work with accompanying guidance), they should ensure these 'match or exceed' what is already available. Otherwise, they are, arguably, entirely unaccountable as they are sending teachers away from commercial programmes that may be much better thought-through, and supportive of teaching and learning.
You can read about this issue via 'The Naked Emperor' blog - where I have raised this issue and my concerns publicly since 2013:
https://debbiehepplewhite.com/no-3-the- ... blication/