Only phonics? A reader replies to Michael Rosen Part 2

//Only phonics? A reader replies to Michael Rosen Part 2

Following yesterday’s post from Jacqui Moller-Butcher in which she responds to Michael Rosen’s anti-phonics arguments, one of the complaints that has repeatedly emerged is the idea that phonics is not the only important aspect of teaching children to read. Indeed not. Take this comment from John Hodgson for example:

No-one knowledgable in teaching the reading of English would deny the value of a grasp of characteristic letter-sound correspondences. This is not the same as arguing that ‘phonics’ (a term that denotes a more or less intense focus on such correspondences) is the only important thing, and that children are being denied the gift of reading by those who advocate also using contextual and other cues.

What ought to be obvious is that phonics is only important in teaching decoding skills. Once decoding the alphabetic code has been mastered, reading comprehension relies very little on phonics.

But that’s not the whole ‘only phonics’ argument. In this comment, children’s author, Michael Rosen states:

Well, when I first came into this debate I was told by several people and found on one of the training programmes, and was told by several teachers who had been on training programmes that the slogan to remember was ‘first, fast and only’ phonics. This was interpreted by some teachers and the present schools minister as meaning that for a period of time (unspecified) children should only look at phonically regular texts. This meant excluding or removing ordinary picture books from classrooms. Nick Gibb agreed with this on a panel I was on with him in Brighton and he explained that this was because children at that point find picture book texts (or any other book for young children) ‘confusing’.

No one – 0r at least, no one sane – really thinks children should never encounter a range of texts. The real debate is around whether systematic synthetic phonics be used to teach decoding to the exclusion of all other methods such as Whole Language and Reading Recovery, and whether using SSP to teach decoding means that children should only ever see “phonically regular texts” in classrooms. 

Happily, Jacqui Moller-Butcher again comes to our rescue. Reprinted with kind permission, here is another of her responses on my blog:

Dear Michael

Actually, the ‘only’ bit is simple: Early in the process, when asking children to practise their understanding and recognition of the English alphabetic code, ‘only’ use texts which are matched to their capabilities in order to maximise success.

Uncontroversial, I think.

Asking children to practise their recognition of the code with texts containing code at a level they haven’t yet been taught maximises the likelihood of frustration and difficulty. Children should ‘only’ decode (not guess) when practising their understanding of the English alphabetic code. Obviously, allowing or encouraging children to guess whole words undermines the act of learning the alphabetic code which would be confusing, non-strategic and pointless. If they recognise a word instantly and read it without decoding it out loud, that’s part of the process. This doesn’t need to be forced; as code recognition becomes automatic, it happens naturally.

Teachers should discourage guessing which will quickly reveal itself through errors. If a child reads ‘cry’ instead of ‘carry’ or ‘went’ instead of ‘wet’ they are guessing from word shape and using only fragments of code. If you have spent time teaching phonics, why would you then deliberately teach children not to apply the knowledge you’ve taught? That’s self-defeating and a waste of precious teaching time.

Surely that is uncontroversial too. That’s it in a nutshell. That’s ‘only’ explained for you.

Now to the question of whether ordinary picture books should be excluded from the classroom during this process. None of the above excludes reading anything at all for pleasure with and to children whenever a willing adult is available to help and no one would suggest that a child should be discouraged from looking at any book that’s caught their eye.

It’s naughty to suggest that any adult involved in education or, indeed, any politician is against reading for pleasure. That’s just silly. You know I know you know I know you know that! You need a holiday from creating fictional baddies, perhaps.

Phonics enthusiasts, as you like to call them, are just as passionate about reading for pleasure as you are. To the phonics enthusiast, phonics is the bridge that leads directly to the wonderful land of Reading for Pleasure. As children become confident at a simple level, they are ready to be taught the next level of code. At that point we should introduce books that contain complex code. Balanced carefully to stretch children while ensuring success at each step and done with conviction and passion, this process is very exciting.

Do this first and fast so that reading print is always positive and quickly becomes effortless.

Do this so well that a child can’t even glance at writing without reading it instantaneously, whether they wanted to or not:

…they look up at a sign – oops! – they’ve read it;
…they look at a note Mum left to Granny – oops! – they’ve read it;
…they look at the dinner table – oops! – ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’ – they’ve read it!

They didn’t even want to or mean to; they just couldn’t help it because decoding has become so effortless, so slick… so easy.

This is true of my own four children, now aged 7-12, who learnt to read through systematic synthetic phonics at home, with me and my self-taught knowledge, a little every day. It was my son at nursery, who, at the lunch table, read with pleasure ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’, much to the amusement of the nursery staff. My four can’t stop reading. They see print, they read it. This is a vital building block in enabling children to read for pleasure. It cannot and will not be pleasurable if it is difficult, if it is slow and if it doesn’t make sense.

Let’s talk about sense.

The (mean) average child has experienced around 16,000* waking hours on arrival in Reception. This is already 1000 more hours than they will spend in school for the next twelve years.

We mustn’t underestimate the comprehension development that has already taken place, whatever their background, not least because our time with them for all of the curriculum from Reception -Y11 will only ever total less than 25%* of their waking hours to age 16. The percentage available for schools to devote to reading is a fraction of that. Many children will arrive at school already loving or not loving – and everything in between – books. We have to work with that.

With only 1235* hours to play with in their first year of school and much of that is spent at lunch, in assembly, on trips, off ill, being snowed out, in the loo, rehearsing for shows, in the playground, in PE, learning about music, having golden time, doing art, doing maths and all manner of other crucial and exciting things on the curriculum). We must be very strategic in our teaching of reading.

With relatively few hours and with 30+ in a class, we must also be realistic. We can’t do everything we would like and love to do for developing reading in the very precious time that we have. [This is the essence of my opportunity cost argument.]

What can we do to maximise comprehension and reading for pleasure at the same time?

It seems plain to me that the greatest priority must be to unlock print so that a child can read everything they already understand, whether or not their first 4-5 years have been language rich, whether or not they love books… yet. If we unlock print quickly, clearly and thoroughly so that children decode confidently and accurately without wasting a second on any guessing at all, they will soon not need the help or confirmation of an adult. Once they are unable to look at the cover or first page of a book without reading the print instantaneously, effortlessly and with ease, we’ll know that we have been successful in the first and most important task in encouraging them to read for pleasure. Then we can let the wonderful words, phrases and sentences on the page sing out. Let the words do the talking. Let the books sell themselves.

How marvellous would it be if our children began to choose books because they were attracted to the blurb, the front page, the words in the middle as well as the engaging covers and pictures? Confident and fluent readers can take books home to read independently in the 3510* hours they’ll spend outside school in that first year of Reception and every year thereafter. We all love doing the reading with them and to them but we must ensure that we equip them early to read effortlessly to themselves if we are to nurture readers who choose to read for pleasure when we cannot be there to engage them.

It feels wonderful to feed them – they love it too – but we must equip them to feed themselves.

The wonderful and dynamic ideas for encouraging reading are varied and endless. But, while a child finds the act of reading print at all laborious, even the most marvellous strategy will fall flat because reading – which must ultimately be done alone if  children are to develop into fully fledged independent readers – is not yet pleasurable.

*Please note, all calculations of waking hours are my own. Please do check them and refine if you think fit. I have used published information on average hours sleep for babies at each stage of development up to 4.5 years. I’ve based a school day on 6.5 hours and a school year on 190 days. I’ve assumed 13/24 waking hours for a Reception child. The figures are not exact but they are relevant, interesting and surprising!

2016-09-11T17:31:40+00:00December 29th, 2015|reading|


  1. Michael Rosen December 29, 2015 at 9:12 am - Reply

    1. Everything and anything can be ‘uncontroversial’ merely by stating that it is so.
    2. We should remember, perhaps, that millions of people learned to read using a variety of methods. It seems strange that a one-size-fits-all method should be imposed on a practice which was doing fine for the majority.
    3. Of course ‘no one is against reading for pleasure’. That’s beside the point. The point is whether some kinds of practice mitigate against reading for pleasure while other practices aid and assist it.
    4. When I visit schools, some teachers tell me that they are having difficulties with some children who are appearing to read well or satisfactorily but do not understand what they’re reading. This is purely anecdotal. They might be telling me what they think I might want to hear. They might be observing a real change. They say that they are looking to find ways to get ‘real books’ back into classroom practice.

    • Jacqui MB January 4, 2016 at 1:34 am - Reply

      Hello Michael

      Another short post – regarding your concerns about inconsistency. Am posting here because all connected but it’s in reply to your point on David’s post.

      Jacqui B 🙂

      I humbly add the following…

      • Jacqui MB January 4, 2016 at 1:36 am - Reply

        …I’ve double checked and Debbie’s approaches do not differ from those in Gordon’s posts. A careful reading of materials online demonstrates this Anyone can check this – perhaps it’s best left up to individuals.

        I say a careful reading because I see why confusion might arise between what is advocated for teaching SSP in classrooms and ideas suggested for incorporating SSP at home. Parents will ultimately decide their own approaches but for me, the principles of SSP underpin both.

        It’s also possible to get in a mix about effective strategies for teaching efficient decoding (phonics first and only) and strategies we might encourage for making sense/comprehension of accurately decoded words and texts. These, and other skills, make up the many overlapping and intertwined aspects of reading. Of course it’s complex, we can’t understand it all; it wouldn’t be teaching if it was easy.

        As you say, reading skills are inextricably linked in all sorts of ways in the act of reading. We can try, though, to artificially untangle them for teaching purposes.

        In fact, if we look at teaching in many other areas of the curriculum, skills are broken down into ever smaller units in order to teach with focus and to maximise improvement and success. The specific skill is then put into practice along with all others that make up the whole. Typical practice in the coaching of sport and music offers examples of this. The smallest of skills are practised and refined through repetition and focused training and then incorporated into the amazing, all singing-all dancing whole.

        To think that we can teach reading best by practising all skills all at once – decoding, comprehension and higher order reading skills – might be considered inconsistent with modern pedagogy generally, and it’s worth taking a moment to think about.

        • Jacqui MB January 4, 2016 at 2:07 am - Reply

          Finally… apologies for the stages…

          We cannot expect SSP to impact if children are actively taught not to use phonic strategies, and so I don’t deliberately teach children to use any other cue than decoding to decode.

          If they read words accurately with automatic recognition, I don’t need to say anything at all. I read aloud to them but I don’t cover their eyes so they can’t see the print. If they look at the print and think things unknown to me, so be it and smashing, to boot! There is no policy for this. Phonics is not a regime. There’s no thought police. I use encouragement not force – no nose tweaking or hard stares or anything. This doesn’t take away anything from sharing real books at home – all the talk and fun and prediction for exploring full meaning take place as normal.

          As a parent and to support other parents, I’ve used helpfully organised code charts, available free at The information is interesting and layout useful.

          For incorporating phonics at home, Debbie says: “What I suggest to parents and teachers is that they either read the books to the children, or if phonics teaching has already started, model the blending, or tell the child the tricky parts of words or tell them the tricky words – rather than tell the children to guess the words.”

          She is saying avoid undermining phonics teaching by telling children to guess words. This is something I try to do.

          At this point, you’ll say some SSP programmes have a list of ‘tricky’ words –– and you’ll say this is inconsistent because it’s teaching ‘sight words’, a cue from the multi-cue menu. I can see why you think that. There is a list, usually short, but the advice is still to adopt a phonic approach, decoding as much of the word as possible, appropriate to learning so far, with a focus on representations of letters.

          The problem is not that the tricky words can’t be decoded. They can.

          The problem is that one element of code might be too sophisticated for an early reader but the word is essential for emerging readers to get up and running with simple books.

          With ‘the’, vital from the word go, voiced /th/ is straightforward. The fact that the letter ‘e’ represents schwa, the funny /uh/ sound in English, is more difficult to teach so soon. Looking at the different ways it can be represented comes later, and when it does, it is very helpful for thinking about the spellings of many different words, for raising awareness of alternative spellings and about letter choice, helping to improve spelling accuracy.

          It’s all common sense really.

          Therefore, for practical purposes, a very small number of words can be partially decoded and partially committed to sight in order for decodable readers to be real stories. And they are! So much more real than repetitive readers of old but still used recently:

          ‘My home is a stone, my home is a tree. My home is a pond. My home is a cave.’

          This takes us back again to teaching reading for meaning.

          Yes. You’re right. For gleaning meaning of already decoded but unknown words, phrases and sentences, I do encourage children to use a range of strategies (reading back and forward in a sentence and considering the whole text if appropriate, general knowledge, guesswork as necessary, all the things you mentioned etc). You call this multi-cueing for reading, reading for meaning. I agree.

          But not for decoding. That’s key and is consistent with Debbie’s views and approaches.

          If children use guesswork and not decoding skills, they are more likely to fail to recognise known words which affects their ability to use their best possible comprehension to understand texts.

          They are also more likely to fail to realise when they have encountered an unknown word (because they’ve guessed the unknown word as a known one). This is something that skilled readers rarely do; skilled readers are usually very aware when they meet an unknown word and then various strategies are used to deduce its meaning from context – or not and so we may ask someone or may look it up in a dictionary or we just choose to, well, let it go – feel free to sing!.

          Using guesswork to try to recognise a word from a letter or two and overall shape often means that children will ‘read’ a wrong word in place of an actual word, which actually stops them using context to deduce the more important stuff – meaning. My students think they think they have successfully read all words – they substituted their own versions where necessary – and so they think their reading is complete, but it isn’t.

          By reading with these habits, young readers are likely to be left with varying degrees of confusion, not full comprehension. Teachers know this condition is true of many primary and secondary students, and, you know? I think Debbie and Gordon would agree!

          Best wishes

        • Jacqui MB January 4, 2016 at 2:47 am - Reply

          (Gosh, I’m really struggling to post tonight. It’s just too late! I’ve had to post in stages. This should be my third point.)

          I think of a child swimming lengths with a cup of water on her forehead specifically to correct the position of her neck and head for backstroke. Perhaps more akin to reading language, I think of the step-by-step exercises for children learning to sight read complex musical code for piano playing. In other complex disciplines it is very common to try to break the ‘whole’ down into temporarily distinct (if not quite hermetically sealed) elements, focusing coaching where it is most needed and for maximum impact. Small achievable steps are taught and celebrated, probably because teachers know it feels good for learners!

          For the classroom: when teaching decoding, it makes sense to do it in a systematic way, bit by bit, introducing code in stages, teaching the skill of decoding from left to right using decodable texts, staged in complexity to suit acquisition of code. I’m fairly sure that I’m not saying anything that differs to any great degree from Debbie and Gordon.

          For home: some confusion might arise for you, Michael, because my description of flexible fun with phonics while sharing books at home doesn’t match your own view of phonics. You mischievously declare that phonics is bleak and boring and harsh with war terminology and references to ‘force’. Painting a fictional picture in few words is your forte and I wouldn’t try to compete, but, in simple vocabulary, I say it’s not bleak, boring or harsh; it is possible to do the fun things with books we have always done and follow the key principles of SSP.

    • Jenny May 10, 2016 at 9:45 am - Reply

      Hello Michael, I love your books, but you seem confused about teaching reading. Re: your point 4, teachers report children reading without understanding, this must be result of the way the teachers are teaching vocabulary. Are they not reading imaginative and creative stories to children, introducing and explaining vocabulary, encouraging children to use dictionaries and also work out the MEANING of a word from the context of the sentence (a good reader does this – but does not try to work out what the word is/pronunciation of the word from the context because those are impossible: well-authenticated and peer reviewed research suggests that only 1 in 10 content words can be identified in this way)? In order to read for pleasure decoding must be automatic on sight (so it appears words are ‘sight words’ although good readers actually look at every letter in a word – peer reviewed research on eye movement while reading) – if it is not and you are guessing (as you suggest in one of your videos that you are happy for children to do with unknown words in your poems) then you will not read for pleasure because reading won’t be a pleasure, it will be pure pain!

    • teachwell June 17, 2016 at 11:26 pm - Reply


      1) You are baiting.

      2) Actually the point is that we don’t. The vast majority did not learn to read properly using Look + Say or Whole Language, instead our rate of literacy has gone down. The fact that some work out the phonic code and can use it or were able to ignore the others method does not mean it’s ok to use alternatives. You have made no argument that the way of learning to read was better in the past. I would say that it was a whole lot worse and I have seen it improve since the introduction of SSP in the schools I have taught in. Perhaps you would like to speak to my dyslexic brother who has literally been freed to read in a way he never could using phonics or even better ask my illiterate father whether he thinks its a good idea to leave the learning of reading to chance.

      3) Indeed, which is why people like myself and others advocate SSP.

      4) Anecdote does not equal data and if a child does not understand what they are reading it makes little difference if they sound out the word, guess or try to use the shape. If a child does not understand a word, we have to tell him or her what it means. Explicit instruction. As for getting ‘real books’ in the classroom – am not sure who these teachers are who are not using them. Phonics based reading books are for children to read themselves. What was used to teach literacy was different, the same with the story books I would read them.

      It is incredibly sad that someone whose books give so much pleasure to so many is hellbent on backing a way of teaching reading that has failed repeatedly in the past and in other English-speaking countries. You are quite literally an author peddling illiteracy.

  2. Michael Rosen December 29, 2015 at 9:30 am - Reply

    Two interesting conversations about phonics:
    1. Disgraced headteacher Greg Wotsit from Hackney who showed a conference a timetable for his early years. Alongside his phonics time per day, was a huge slab of time devoted to sharing nursery rhymes, poetry, stories. He said he thought this was great, I said I thought that this was great, and then I made the mistake of saying that these rhymes and story sessions were part of reading too. He got quite angry and said it wasn’t. I said that as I thought ‘reading’ was about making meaning from squiggles on the page and not just ‘decoding’ then what he was doing sounded like an important component of reading. In actual daily habits, there is no sealed-off part of ‘reading’ which is just decoding and another part which is solely listening. In the many hours outside of school, many parents sit with their children on their laps or side by side at bed-time reading books which are not phonically regular. Many of these books are ones that children choose to hear or to read if schools do what Greg did, which is provide a rich, fun time every day with interesting fun texts. Then, if the children get hold of any of these (or others) they anticipate and read words, phrases and pages of books whilst hearing it being read. I’ve been involved in parenting 7 children. They all had that experience alongside whatever was going on in school. The fact that this goes on is exemplified by my next story.

    2. I was invited on to Sky News to talk about the Phonics Screening Check. I was going to point out that it is not a ‘reading’ test. It’s a test to find out if children can read certain single words out loud. Most of us understand reading to be about making meaning from the squiggles. That’s not reading out loud single words that have no relation to each other. I was on with Debbie H. Once the interview got going, I realised that the presenter (a woman with a five year old child) was actually quite angry. I think the gist of what she was saying was that her child had learned to read at home before going to school, but was now being told that she couldn’t read. (If this wasn’t her gripe, then I’ve conflated it with a story I’ve heard many times since, apologies). Either way, this is part of where the debate has got to. I’ve been told that I don’t read properly because I didn’t learn to read using synthetic phonics.

  3. Tom Burkard December 29, 2015 at 10:12 am - Reply

    ‘Reading comprehension’ is a very old and stale red herring. Way back in 1968, Moffett made this common-sense observation:

    “A child who fails to understand a text either cannot decode letters, or else cannot understand the text for reasons having nothing to do with printed words; he would not understand the text even if it were read aloud to him. In other words, reading comprehension is merely comprehension.”

    When children are learning to read, their working memory is apt to be fully engaged decoding print to sound, and there may be little if any room left for understanding. Down the ages good teachers have engaged very young children in text by reading it to them. This is the place for discussing, understanding and appreciating text with young children whose decoding skills will still lag well behind their oral language comprehension.

    Michael Rosen bangs on about children who can already ‘read’ and who don’t need to be taught phonics. If this were really the case, reading non-words would be an effortless exercise–just as when reading ‘Jabberwocky’. So what’s the problem? It sounds as though Rosen has visited classrooms where the teachers share his prejudices and are busy creating straw men to suit their prejudices.

    Just for the record, perhaps Michael could answer this question: If I were asked to read a text on a subject (say, sub-atomic particles) about which I know nothing to a room full of experts, I would not understand what I had read, but my audience would. So who’s doing the reading?

    • Michael Rosen December 29, 2015 at 10:40 am - Reply

      I don’t ‘bang on’ any more than you or anyone else. Perhaps you missed the point that the synthetic phonics argument may or may not have been proven, but nevertheless it is policy. In that sense, the argument is over.

      Yes, we can all quote from sages of the past. I have been looking at the theory behind the reading scheme that was used when I was being taught to read in the 1940s and 50s. There, the author explains that it is essential to avoid teaching to read by being exclusively ‘phonic’ or exclusively ‘reading for meaning’. Quoting is not proof. It’s just interesting.

      Now to the matter of comprehension: I’m not sure that the idea that the brain has room for x but doesn’t have room for something else has much experimental evidence to back that up, does it? How would we know? How could it be shown in such a specific way?

      I’m not sure if you’re saying that parents who claim that their children can read are lying. The reason why a child (or indeed an adult) might not be able to read a non-word in the context of the phonics screening check is that language-in-use is not lists of non-words. Outside of the teach-test environment, we read in meaningful day-to-day contexts: i.e. life. This means that we have to use the contexts to understand. Example: on London buses there is a red button that says: Stop. This has a different meaning from the ‘Stop’ on road signs. When I see the ‘Stop’ on the stop button on the bus, that is not an instruction or command for me to stop doing anything. It says, ‘If you want the bus to stop, please press this button and a signal will get to the driver who will interpret this as telling him or her to stop (not immediately) but when he/she gets to the next bus stop’. Purely and simply being able to decode ‘stop’ will not tell me much of that. I learn all that from context, observation and practice (and probably a good deal of talk).

      So, perhaps the parents are lying about their children knowing how to read. Perhaps some parents are doing a lot of ‘context stuff’ that schools don’t have time to do? Perhaps some parents teach their children to read using other methods and yet, mysteriously still enable their children to read?

      Now to the teachers. Oh, they appear to be lying as well. They’re just confirming my or their prejudices. That’s that sorted then. On the other hand, teachers’ own observations – rather like David’s here – have some validity? Sometimes?

      I think your example of the sub-atomic particles is excellent. It’s the very point that I make on many occasions – though your example is better than mine. Yes, it is possible to learn how to read a language out loud without understanding it. There are a few rare occasions when we might imagine that this is useful. I was under the impression that this rather proved the point that we might be phonically fluent and accurate but unable to derive use and enjoyment from a text and that was why we had to do a good deal of work enabling young readers to make connections between text and meaning. Simply or only doing phonics, does not necessarily enable children to release meaning from texts. I thought we were all agreed on this. After all, that is why Ruth Miskin produced ReadWriteInc books on comprehension, though the last school I went to had thrown them out because they found the children’s SAT scores were going down. They were introducing a ‘book-based curriculum’ instead to help the children with comprehension and writing. It was in one of Lord Nash’s academies.

    • David Didau December 29, 2015 at 10:46 am - Reply

      By ‘reading comprehension’ I’m not talking about the very limited benefits of instructing children in the reading ‘strategies’ like empathy and inference, I’m talking about building contextual & general knowledge.

      • Michael Rosen December 29, 2015 at 10:51 am - Reply

        Can I suggest that if we start talking in detail about ‘comprehension’, we might need a different thread? Yes, I understand ‘comprehension’ to be much more than the ‘retrieval’ and ‘inference’ questions on SATs papers. I often talk in public about my experience of talking with young children about their ‘interpretations’ of texts which usually involves experience of life, experience of texts, retrieval, inference and probably a lot else besides.

  4. Ellen Sizer-James December 29, 2015 at 10:19 am - Reply

    I I like a day that starts with a good phonics kick off! In all three schools I work at there has been a slide in comprehension or reading for meaning even in children with great word reading skills. Pretty sure that’s linked to an over reliance on phonics. The amount of time spent in teaching and learning on getting yr1s through the phonics test leaves little time for reading for fun or amazement

    • Michael Rosen December 29, 2015 at 10:47 am - Reply

      Be very careful. Tom might point out that you are doing or saying something that is just to “suit your prejudices”. He doesn’t have prejudices. He has truth.

    • Jenny May 10, 2016 at 11:07 am - Reply

      Probably loss of comprehension because although phonics is adequate, vocabulary is not being developed very well.

  5. Alexandra law December 29, 2015 at 10:47 am - Reply

    Phonics is one tool in learning to read. Sadly, for me, the over emphasis on this methods has meant a reduction in reading for pleasure and a reduction in the skill of some more recently qualified teachers to adapt and use another tool to help a child who may find the ‘phonic’ method challenging.
    A child’s vocabulary in the early years plays a huge impact on their achievement in later life. What better way to do this than with fantastic literature!
    Schools are under pressure to do too many things and get good results and often the story time at the end if the day goes but never mind they can read ‘ neg’ …

    Unfortunately we did not stop with the over emphasis on phonics and education has become too formal, riddled with tests and data and surprise surprise mental health problems in the young is increasing dramatically. Education ministers deciding that teaching ‘ character’ was important. Good teachers do this naturally and have always know this.

    Yes I am a fan of Michael Rosen and his bubbling enthusiasm for literature and the enjoyment and engagement he inspires in others and have met him several times and always found him open to sensible debate.

    • David Didau December 29, 2015 at 10:52 am - Reply

      “Bubbling enthusiasm” is ten a penny. We’re all enthusiastic about literature but no will ever read for pleasure unless they can read fluently, effortlessly and automatically. Advocating methods which privilege the many at the expense of the few is unscrupulous. If you use so-called ‘mixed methods’ then about 80% of children will learn to read (although some will be forever at a disadvantage when attempting to decode unfamiliar words) but around 20% will be condemned to functional illiteracy. This significant minority are the children who are at stake in this debate. Relying on SSP ensures most of them will be able to decode flunetly while relying on mixed methods ensures they won’t.

      • Michael Rosen December 29, 2015 at 11:03 am - Reply

        Stephen Krashen has argued for some time that programmes of intensive, exclusive phonics have not been shown to enable children to read-with-understanding any better than using mixed methods, if you test children at the age of 10 or 11. For example:

        I’ll drop him a note and maybe he will join in the discussion.

      • Michael Rosen December 29, 2015 at 11:11 am - Reply

        As for the ‘bubbling enthusiasm’, I’m pleased to be able to tell you that not only is it ten a penny but politicians are extremely adapt at ignoring it and deflecting it. I have been summoned several times to the DfE to share my bubbling enthusiasm. I have met with NewLabour and Tory education ministers and Jim Rose. Jim, who after all is key to this debate, pointed out that he ‘had ‘cracked the alphabetic principle’ but now needed a programme of ‘making books come alive’. I suggested that authors were people who concentrate on this kind of thing and that he could talk to them about how we go into schools, help with development of ideas around ‘making books come alive’. I never heard from him again. So much for bubbling enthusiasm.

        Same goes for the ministers who even had a document in front of them ‘English Moving Forward’ (2011) which suggested that schools could develop policies on helping all children enjoy reading. Would that or could that or should that be government policy? Ie should central government put reading for pleasure on some kind of curriculum? No they said. Instead, they produced some excellent pages on (which I have never yet met a teacher who has read or seen) and instituted the ‘off by heart’ reading poetry competition.

        Yes, indeed, David, it is quite possible to be bubbling and enthusiastic about it but actually doing stuff about it is extremely difficult and challenging. And yet, some serious longitudinal research (e.g. Mariah Evans at University of Nevada) and Krashen again, suggests that it has much more than incidental ‘help’ or validity. But of course it’s non-instructional. (And, incidentally, there are no for-profit reading schemes that can be recommended by government advisers who might themselves benefit from recommending them.)

      • Alexandra law December 29, 2015 at 11:33 pm - Reply

        Sadly bubbling enthusiasm is not ten a penny with many children. Reading has become a chore and not a pleasure , for them, and I believe it is the pleasure that brings the persistence to be a lifelong reader. Yes phonics are important but an over reliance on teaching them has led to other important reading skills being neglected. In my school we do phonics but do not over rely on it.

  6. John Hodgson December 29, 2015 at 11:16 am - Reply

    This debate has been going on for more than 50 years and is highly charged emotionally and ideologically. I think (hope) we can agree that we have to be very careful to ensure that we are all talking about the same thing. Research I have been involved with shows that SSP is differently interpreted by teachers, some following the government line that young children should be taught ‘phonics’ ‘first and fast’ without ‘distractions’, others using a less stringent approach. As a teacher and parent, now reading with my young grandchildren, I suspect that part of their pleasure is in working out how words mean (chldren like to know how the world works), for example by noticing affixes such as ‘ly’. The history of phonics shows varying positions over the years on whether we should emphasise initial letter sounds or sound blends when working with young children. Fashions change in this as in other aspects of education, and no-one is in possession of immutable truth.

  7. governingmatters December 29, 2015 at 11:25 am - Reply

    “…they look up at a sign – oops! – they’ve read it” Hapoened to me!

  8. governingmatters December 29, 2015 at 11:29 am - Reply

    Sorry, disregard the previous. Commenting using phones fraught with danger!

    “….they look up at a sign – oops! – they’ve read it”

    The above actually happened!

  9. John Hodgson December 29, 2015 at 11:50 am - Reply

    My story concerns my son aged 6, then attending a Los Angeles elementary school, who sounded out ‘Ventura’ from a sign he read as we drove along the freeway. I was very impressed that his phonics instruction seemed to have borne fruit – but the method he had experienced was not SSP. The emphasis in his classroom was on sound blends, and he got into trouble for offering to blend ‘f’ and ‘k’.

  10. PStone December 29, 2015 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    Can I tell you a couple of stories?
    Thinking of children learning to read, starting with my own, 30 years ago, when I wasn’t a teacher at all, the day they walk down a corridor and spontaneously read a sign on the wall, any sign, I whoop inwardly. It is always a sign that they have cracked it. And they know they’ve cracked it.
    Child A – Last Autumn I was asked to teach child A as she seemed bright but would never do any work, liked messing about and would sit with a deadpan face during whole class instruction. “Has she got special needs?” A turned out to be as clever as you like, and learned to read fluently at beyond age-expected in two months. She would talk to me, as children tend to do when they come to see you every day, and I realised she was unhappy as her big sister was allowed to go out with Mum at weekends and holidays while A and her little brother were left at home with dad, and dad would just send them upstairs to ‘play’. She didn’t have anything to play with except the contents of her school book bag. At school she wanted to play with her friends as often as possible – ‘messing about’. Her teacher taught her class to blend phonics, for the screener, by flapping each hand in turn as they said each phoneme, then flapping both hands together as they said the word e.g. g flap t the left l flap to the right o flap t the left p flap t the right both hands flap together glop. A was ace at this, deadpan face and all. I watched her doing her phonics screener assessment. She flapped out every word like a metronome, whether she needed to or not, and got 40/40. I saw her the other day in the lower ability year 2 phonics group which is for those who failed the screener? With a new teacher, she has gone back to being deadpan, not doing any work, messing about…
    Child B – last Spring I was asked to see what I could do with B. ‘She knows all her phonics but can’t blend. Has she got special needs?’ B was well on the way to fluent reading. She did not seem to like working out words she didn’t know, and would ask me to tell her. ‘I don’t know that one.’ If I told her a word she would read it next time. I taught her quickly to work out new words, not ask me, I will help if you need it. B has english as her second language. She had prominent new teeth and found it a bit tricky to pronounce some sounds. She was shy and quiet. She could blend very well, but she didn’t like saying things she wasn’t totally sure of, or that sounded stupid, especially the non-words of the phonics screener practice. So we had a laugh. We made up nonsense and said it in nonsense voices. We took turns to be deliberately stupid – sometimes it’s the only way. I told her teacher B could blend. Her teacher believed me. B got 40/40 on the screener.
    This is not rocket science. This is about looking at a child, wondering what is going on for a child. It’s what parents do, in the main. That’s why they are such great teachers.

  11. John Hodgson December 29, 2015 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this – as you suggest, the feelings of the child (their emotional situation and their drive for a pleasurable and successful learning experience) are crucial. This is why teachers must, professionally and humanly, adapt their method to the specific learner(s).

  12. Debbie Hepplewhite (@debbiehepp) December 29, 2015 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    I welcome the opportunity to address any misunderstandings with regard to the relationship between technical ‘decoding’ through applying alphabetic code knowledge and the phonics skill of decoding – and language comprehension – and the role of literature that supports word decoding/recognition, vocabulary enrichment, language comprehension and knowledge and understanding of the world ( = literacy or cultural capital).

    If teachers are failing to provide learners with plenty of language, literature and various literacy experiences, then that is surely the issue – not ‘blaming’ the official introduction and promotion of systematic synthetic phonics provision in our early years and infant contexts. If the consequence of the introduction of SSP and the Year One Phonics Screening Check has led to a reduction in literature enrichment and language comprehension, as suggested by Michael Rosen and others, then that is a matter for deeper professional training and development – not the undermining or abolition of SSP and the phonics check.

    First of all, I don’t recall the TV interview where Michael R. and I featured as participants in the same way that Michael describes above. My main memory is of the lady presenter verbally attacking me seconds before we went live by describing that her daughter (I thought the lady said she was 6) was confused by phonics and got distressed when she could not decode words such as ….. unfortunately, I cannot remember the specific word. I remember being totally unnerved by this very unfair attack (and it did feel like an attack) – and I had no opportunity to speak with the presenter to listen to her experiences and worries, and to allay her fears or to explain more fully about SSP and its importance – there was simply no chance.

    I was so dismayed by this experience that I complained about it and was overheard by another lady who invited me for a further interview for some news channel. My husband and I waited nearly all day for this lady to get back to us to say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ and eventually we went to another studio for a proper interview and this time I was able to describe SSP properly and get across any points that I felt needed making. Imagine my huge disappointment when the news item appeared on TV and out of a 15 minute very informative interview, the programme editors used one half of one sentence as the phonics soundbite. Such is the difficulty of getting good information across through the media and public domain. I have had a number of similar experiences over many years and now have no confidence whatsoever in news programmes and presenters. My experiences will be the same as others I have no doubt. Having said that, BBC breakfast news now chooses to show really long, protracted interviews of rock stars and actors making some come-back or other via a record, book, play or film. It appears that these topics are more important than how best to teach reading to our children.

    Anyway, for what it is worth and for those people who are interested, see the fourth message of this thread below where I respond to one of Michael Rosen’s many critical comments on systematic synthetic phonics. Subsequent to this, I have written an article which responds to an extent in ‘Teach Reading and Writing’ which will soon be available online as it appeared in hard copy last month.

    I am personally very gratified and relieved that more people are understanding the importance of alphabetic code knowledge and technical decoding – such as David and the amazing Jacqui M-B. Thank you so much for your contributions to help move forwards ‘understanding’.

    • Michael Rosen December 29, 2015 at 5:53 pm - Reply

      Debbe, I’m not sure why you think you have to correct my impression of the Sky News programme unless correcting is something you like doing. This is what I wrote:

      “Once the interview got going, I realised that the presenter (a woman with a five year old child) was actually quite angry. I think the gist of what she was saying was that her child had learned to read at home before going to school, but was now being told that she couldn’t read. (If this wasn’t her gripe, then I’ve conflated it with a story I’ve heard many times since, apologies).”

      So, we’re agreed the woman was angry. I then said, ‘I think the gist’…in other words I was most certainly not being dogmatic about what I remembered. Then I recount a story which you then appear to contradict because you think that it was about her child being asked to decode something. My memory (not contradicted by you) is that her anger arose from her thinking that her child could already read. However, I then wrote: ‘If this wasn’t her gripe, then I’ve conflated it with a story I’ve heard many times since, apologies’. If, Debbie,you know of any other way in which you can report on a story whilst putting up big hazard lights warning that one may have remembered it wrongly, then please tell me. As far as I can tell, I did just that. So quite what it was you think you were correcting me for, will have to rest in your imagination.

    • Michael Rosen December 29, 2015 at 5:55 pm - Reply

      I would love to be able to find your comment after the fourth message on this thread but it doesn’t seem to have appeared yet. I look forward to reading it.

    • PStone December 29, 2015 at 6:30 pm - Reply

      When you say “technical ‘decoding’ through applying alphabetic code knowledge and the phonics skill of decoding”, I wonder who you are codding?

  13. skrashen December 29, 2015 at 11:36 pm - Reply

    Michael Rosen has asked me to jump in, so here I am.

    I concluded that the published research shows that intensive decoding instruction only helps on tests in which children pronounce words presented on the list. It does not contribute to performance on tests in which children have to understand what they read. My article is short, and is available at

    Krashen, S. 2009. Does intensive reading instruction contribute to reading comprehension? Knowledge Quest 37 (4): 72-74.

    • David Didau December 29, 2015 at 11:48 pm - Reply

      I don’t think anyone has ever claimed phonics helps children understand the words they read. Phonics helps children decode print. Research into whether phonics contributes to reading comprehension is like finding out that penicillin won’t cure viral infections and then saying it doesn’t work. No, of course it won’t, but it is pretty good at fighting bacterial infections.

      That said, the speed at which you read is vital for comprehension. If you can’t decode at a minimum of 200 words per minute then the burden on working memory becomes so great that our ability to make sense of what we’re reading starts to disintegrate. Maybe you could conduct some research into that?

      • skrashen December 29, 2015 at 11:59 pm - Reply

        Reply: This is the classical theory – first you learn to decode, then you can read. But there are severe limits on how much phonics children can consciously learn. Researchers haven’t described all the rules, and many those that have been described are very complex with numerous exceptions. I discuss this in: Krashen, S. 2002. Defending whole language: The limits of phonics instruction and the efficacy of whole language instruction. Reading Improvement 39 (1): 32-42. Available at

      • Michael Rosen December 30, 2015 at 1:08 am - Reply

        One of the features of debates about learning to read is that they start to grow analogies. The debates seem to draw these out and when we deliver them, we do so as if that’s sorted it. So, on cue, here’s David with an antibiotics one. Ho ho, he is saying, as if anyone would claim that systematic intensive synthetic phonics would teach children how to understand anything!

        Perhaps David, you haven’t engaged in arguments around phonics for long periods of time? In my experience, there comes a moment which I describe as ‘phonics creep’. This is where the claims that phonics can indeed do more than teach children how to decode start to creep in. In summary, the argument goes: children learn to decode…they know the meanings of the words…they say the words…they understand the words….hey presto systematic, intensive, synthetic phonics teaching teaches children how to understand text.

        So, yes, indeed, there are some who believe (going back to your analogy) that antibiotics will cure viruses (as it were). In other words, you may well find that there are phonics enthusiasts out there wishing that you hadn’t used that analogy.

        Btw, I can think of several arguments as to why ‘phonics creep’ is misleading and false as I suspect you can, David, but I don’t think we’re not talking about that for the moment.

        • David Didau December 30, 2015 at 1:27 am - Reply

          Well, thank goodness I’ve made my position clear Michael. Phonics instruction is great at helping kids decode. And that’s it. I wonder if perhaps we could all agree on that and move on?

  14. skrashen December 29, 2015 at 11:44 pm - Reply

    Second, I’ve reviewed the research on DEAR aka SSR/Sustained Silent Reading, in which a certain amount of time is set aside for self-selected reading with zero or little accountability. DEAR/SSR does very well, producing at least as much growth in literacy as traditional instruction, and is a consistent winner when the duration of the program is long enough. I published a review of this research in my book, the Power of Reading (2004, second edition), and also here:
    Krashen, S. 2001. More smoke and mirrors: A critique of the National Reading Panel report on fluency. Phi Delta Kappan 83: 119-123. (
    Krashen, S. 2007. Extensive reading in English as a foreign language by adolescents and young adults: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching 3 (2): 23-29. (

  15. skrashen December 29, 2015 at 11:49 pm - Reply

    Third: The accusation has been made that in DEAR/SSR students often don’t really read. I have reviewed the research and concluded that they read quite a bit during DEAR/SSR time as long as some common-sense conditions are met (eg access to interesting reading material): Krashen, S. 2011. Nonengagement in sustained silent reading: How extensive is it? What can it teach us? Colorado Reading Council Journal 22: 5-10. (

  16. darkwingduck December 30, 2015 at 12:18 am - Reply

    Anyone come across the Nicolay Method? Children look at words and speak them out aloud (or hear someone else speak them). An image of the word is stored in their brain, along with a sound byte of that word. When they hear the word again they recall the image and write the word down, or if they see the word they recall the sound byte and read it out aloud. Explains the whole jumbled up words paragraph that goes round the internet – you see the first and last letter, recognise the shape and recall the sound byte.

    Children are very good are doing things their own way and letting teachers think they have done it their way. A child may recognise a word because they have heard it many times at home, or read it in books (or even had books read to them at home where they followed the text). But because the teacher has taught them to decode, that will get the tick in the box.

    I notice the comments about the jabberwocky words – if the first and last letter are the same, and it is the same shape, then the child will read it as the word it is intended not to be. If told to spell the word, the child probably would spell it correct. In the screening test, in the heat of the moment, they read it as the trick word. Should this be penalised? Children are being penalised for not using one method when in fact they have used another method, when they are likely to have a reading age far higher than their peers.

    In this technological age it is sad to see the decline of books with cassettes. I remember getting a book and then playing the tape. Someone else read the book for me but I had to follow the text to know when to turn the page. I would learn so many new words, and over time I became familiar with these words and could even spell them.

  17. […] December – Only phonics? A reader replies to Michael Rosen Part 2 – these two posts address some of the most persistent complaints from phonics denialists […]

  18. Debbie Hepplewhite (@debbiehepp) December 30, 2015 at 1:44 am - Reply

    Hi Stephen,

    Can you please describe exactly what you mean by “basic phonics” as mentioned by you in your recommended article above. I have a suspicion that, perhaps like Michael Rosen and Smith, you have a limited notion of how comprehensively and thoroughly the alphabetic code can be taught and applied for both reading and spelling including the subsequent benefits for more automatic and fluent reading and writing. In order for us to be on the same page in descriptions and terms, I would need to know what you mean by ‘basic phonics’ please. You wrote:

    “This position does not exclude the teaching of “basic” phonics (Krashen, 2004; Garan, 2004). A small amount of consciously learned knowledge of the rules of phonics can help in the beginning stages to make texts comprehensible, but there are severe limits on how much phonics can be learned and applied because of the complexity of many of the rules (Smith, 2004).

    The fact that Michael Rosen would call upon you to step into the literacy debate and the fact that you refer to Smith – whose views about phonics and reading instruction have long since been discredited by the breadth of research findings, simply suggests a lack of appreciation about the potential of explicit phonics provision and the relationship with language comprehension and the role of literature.

    • Michael Rosen December 30, 2015 at 2:06 am - Reply

      Ah – this is the crux: ‘the potential of explicit phonics provision and the relationship with language comprehension and the role of literature’. Elsewhere, readers of this thread and the subsequent one will have come across David’s antibiotics-don’t-cure-viruses analogy. In other words, “Don’t you folks go about thinking that we phonics folks would claim that phonics teaches you to understand! Of course we wouldn’t claim that…’

      So Debbie, tell us what is ‘the relationship’ that you have referred to? (This ties in, I think, with Greg, who I mentioned in my earlier post, who factored in large chunks of time in his early years classes in his school, devoted to poetry, stories, and songs.) And of course, I’m always interested to know what ‘the role of literature’ is. What is the role of literature? Should we, as Jim Rose suggested, be doing all that we can to ‘make books come alive’?

  19. Debbie Hepplewhite (@debbiehepp) December 30, 2015 at 2:41 am - Reply


    You wrote:

    “Don’t you folks go about thinking that we phonics folks would claim that phonics teaches you to understand! Of course we wouldn’t claim that…’


    Over and again we refer to the Simple View of Reading which distinguishes the technical ability to lift the words off the page (say what the words ‘are’) and the language comprehension to know what the words ‘mean’.

    Will you always persist in ignoring this distinction and SSP proponents explanations?

    BUT, a content-rich systematic phonics programme should also include attention to word-meanings, vocabulary enrichment and language comprehension. Decoding words, sentences and texts through a phonics route is not devoid of focusing on vocabulary and comprehension.

    As Sir Jim Rose said, phonics provision should take place in a language-rich and literature-rich environment. Of course. Why wouldn’t it. And this issue about cumulative, decodable books is that we should not ask children to read INDEPENDENTLY books that they cannot read or can barely read – which puts them under undue pressure. It makes sense to provide them with texts and books which match the alphabetic code they have been taught to date to practise what they have been taught, to build up their fluency and confidence – and their enjoyment of reading.

    Jacqui M-B describes very clearly what can happen to children as readers when they are taught to guess words or have to default to guessing words rather than being able to decode them accurately and automatically.

    In the meantime, I’ll refer again to this thread where I have responded to your article in ‘Teach Reading and Writing’. My comments are in ‘red’ below your exact comments – you will need to scroll to the fourth posting:

    • Michael Rosen December 30, 2015 at 8:57 am - Reply

      No, I don’t think you’ll find that it’s people like me who fail to distinguish between single-word phonics texts (like the PSC) and ‘reading-for-meaning’. Perhaps I wasn’t clear about what I meant when I talk of ‘phonics creep’. I meant that I hear over and over again, people describing decoding as ‘reading’. I understand ‘reading’ to mean ‘reading for meaning’. Clearly some people, (not you of course) think that decoding is ‘reading for meaning’.

      As for the ‘undue pressure’ – excuse me for keeling over laughing. I have 7 children aged from 40 to 11. In that time, I have seen the great education reforms piling pressure after pressure on my children. If you imagine that 5/6 year olds are now freer of pressure than before, then you must have lost your pressure-antennae. Then, more precisely, when it comes to guessing words (some of us call it ‘playing’) I have sat with my children hundreds of times while we played with words, guessed them, laughed at them, enjoyed moving words round on magnet boards, half-listened to me reading, half-reading themselves….The idea that this daily parental practice carried out by hundreds of thousands of people is necessarily full of ‘pressure’ is a joke. On the other hand, coming home with ‘reading books’ and ‘having to read them for tomorrow’ – with a view to the Screening Check coming up – I’ve seen that as ‘pressure’. Oh yes.

      • David Didau December 30, 2015 at 10:30 am - Reply

        Michael. when I talk about decoding I’m referring to the ability to turn print into sounds. When I mention reading I’m talking about both decoding and language comprehension. I feel I’ve been absolutely clear about this. As a secondary trained English specialist I’m far more concerned with high-level language skills. Anyone who thinks reading is just decoding is wrong. If you want to point such people out to me I will happily set them straight. Does that help?

  20. PStone December 30, 2015 at 10:29 am - Reply

    A few questions for Debbie

    When you ask SKrashen what he means by basic phonics, do think he might mean the same as you when you talk about ‘simple code’? You also talk about complex code. I have watched and watched, looking for you to mark the distinction between simple and complex; where does simple end and complex start, but you never do. There is also this bamboozlement that you have arbitrarily renamed stuff and can then assume authority over people who don’t use the same vocabulary.

    Why do you not publish the UK evidence and statistics that prove your points? Maybe then we would all shut up.

    I have been watching these videos from your guru D McGuinness, and can’t tell that she is actually saying anything. Is she actually saying anything?

    Please tell everyone, because most people who argue support for you don’t actually know, how long, for how many lessons, on average, children need to stay on the ‘cumulatively decodable books’, and how a decision is made to risk letting them near a story written in natural language?
    Please show us pages from cumulatively decodable books at the beginning of SSP / SP and some from the end.

    Are your SP / SSP (I still don’t know the difference) programmes teaching children to read, or are they teaching phonics? Please explain.

    And please also tell us what this means, that you wrote in an earlier comment: ‘“technical ‘decoding’ through applying alphabetic code knowledge and the phonics skill of decoding”.

  21. PStone December 30, 2015 at 10:30 am - Reply

    Question for David Didau
    How many children have you taught to read, from scratch to fluency?

    • David Didau December 30, 2015 at 10:42 am - Reply

      I’m a secondary teacher, so none. Does this mean you’re going to make some sort of ad hominem argument about the value of my opinion? If you are, I wonder how many children Michael Rosen or Professor Krashen have taught to read from scratch?

      I have however taught a fair few children aged between 11-16 to decode. Clearly, because they had already received some instruction this could hardly said to be from scratch as I had to spend a fair bit of time dealing with misconceptions and unhelpful habits. I can only imagine starting from scratch is preferable, but I’m happy to acknowledge that I have little knowledge and no expertise in the primary sector.

      • Michael Rosen December 30, 2015 at 11:06 am - Reply

        As you’re asking, David, (but I suspect you aren’t), I have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours with my 7 children playing with letters, words, simple books (e.g. Dr Seuss ‘Hop on Pop’) picture books, comics, cloth books, bath books, making up poems together, reading poems, looking at street signs, cereal packets, registration plates, adverts on bill boards and in the underground, making up labels to put on cupboards, acting as ‘scribe’ when they made up stories and poems and giving the text back to them, helping them write letters to people, going on websites to find out things that they wanted to know…

        Alongside, that I spend a lot of time in nursery, reception and Year 1 classrooms doing poems with the children.

        I also try to listen to what teachers are saying, though Tom here thinks that’s just about confirming each other’s prejudices.

        • David Didau December 30, 2015 at 11:17 am - Reply

          You’re right Michael I wasn’t really asking. I was mainly wondering why you and Krashen hadn’t been asked when I had.

          But well done you! You’re clearly an exemplary parent – I’ve really struggled to find the time to do all the reading with my daughters I might have wanted to and your example makes me feel a bit ashamed 🙁

          And just so you know, I’m sure all the time you spend in classrooms is hugely valuable to the children concerned.

          But when it comes to listening, we all seem to have a knack for tuning out the stuff we’re not keen on hearing. I too spend a lot of time listening to teachers but, curiously, they seem to say very different things to me.

      • PStone December 30, 2015 at 12:28 pm - Reply

        It is not meant to insult you. I don’t do ad hominem. That is just calling people names – challenge to someone’s authority on a subject is not ad hominem.
        I teach beginner readers all the time. I also teach a phonics group – to prepare them to pass the screener, for my sins. The children in my group have had a year of phonics but can’t use them. (Actually, they can now)
        My pragmatism tells me that is children have to jump through hoops, we should make sure they can.
        I also watch from the sidelines and bite my lip as children who can read and write perfectly well are submitted to daily phonics lessons and practice at nonsense words so that they will be able to pass the phonics screener. This is not for the children. It so that the school will not be crucified.
        As someone who teaches reading all day long, I can’t allow someone who has never taught anyone to read, or even watched or spoken to me, to make pronouncements about what I do and to tell me that what I do is wrong or that I am a liar. In supporting DH and her SP and SSP acolytes, that is what you are doing. They are constantly accusing people like me of teaching children to guess and lying about it. Please don’t you start saying it too.

        • David Didau December 30, 2015 at 1:08 pm - Reply

          Tell you what, I won’t call you a liar if you don’t start accusing me of things I haven’t done. How about that?

      • PStone December 30, 2015 at 12:50 pm - Reply

        This’ll shock you:
        I’d like you to know David, that when I teach these 6 year old beginner readers, I have people like you in the back of my mind at all times.
        I do my utmost to make sure I don’t do anything that might spoil books or reading or literature for them because I want them to get to you one day and really find out what reading is.
        I make sure my 6 year olds enjoy their books and their success. I make sure they are interested in the content of their books. We wonder sometimes why the author said that? We play. We mess about. We save the last page for tomorrow and get all excited about what might happen. If they need phonics, I give them some. Most of all we read. And when I say we, I mean we. We do it together. And the child learns to read. The way I describe it does not sound very academic, does it? But it is underpinned by 40 years evidence if you want some.
        I would consider myself a total failure if people I had taught got near a good English teacher in secondary school but were not able to make the best of him because they had been bored rigid when they were 6.
        People who don’t like SP / SSP and its connotations are usually concerned about the bored rigid factor.

        • David Didau December 30, 2015 at 1:11 pm - Reply

          None of that shocks me. I take the view that everyone who works in education is well intentioned. My views and comments are informed by almost 20 years of dealing with Year 7 students whose decoding is so poor that reading for pleasure is out of the question.

          Someone somewhere is clearly doing something wrong.

          • PStone December 30, 2015 at 1:50 pm

            My 20 years experience tells me not that these kids have been taught wrong, but they have not been taught at all.
            Once they have got past the age at which they are supposed to have learned – year 2 – very little is available to them.
            We all know that if we gave all these non and partial readers a specialist reading teacher each, they would learn. If we really cared, we would do that.
            We ain’t gonna fix things by going for the cheap option of drilling phonics at them morning, noon and night.

          • PStone December 30, 2015 at 1:51 pm

            I’m a bloody good teacher. Way more than good intentioned. Shall I show you my results?

  22. darkwingduck December 30, 2015 at 10:34 am - Reply

    we should not ask children to read INDEPENDENTLY books that they cannot read or can barely read – which puts them under undue pressure.

    On the other hand, coming home with ‘reading books’ and ‘having to read them for tomorrow’ – with a view to the Screening Check coming up – I’ve seen that as ‘pressure’. Oh yes.

    I do not see a child reading a book as being put under pressure. However a teacher providing specific books for a screening test is putting a child (and parent) under pressure.

    A child may try to read a book. It might have a cool front cover, or be a title they have heard of. It may be too hard for them, and a teacher may say they should put it back and change it for something else. But there is nothing wrong with this. If anything it gives the child a target to aim for. It will not cause them psychological trauma or distress.

    Jacqui M-B describes very clearly what can happen to children as readers when they are taught to guess words or have to default to guessing words rather than being able to decode them accurately and automatically.

    There is clear a place for a variety of methods. I don’t see any harm in children trying to guess a word – this is what most children will do despite being put through a phonics programme. Take the word ‘daughter’ – such a familiar word that children will have seen on school letters and in general everyday literature. Decoding is not a one stop shop. Yes it is needed, but they need more. Teachers constantly moan about spelling but is is a major concern – some pupils spell phonetically as they have always been taught to decode when reading, so ‘daughter’ becomes ‘dorter’ or the like.

    We have to stop the whole psychological trauma of children concerns. This happened with Maths several years ago where the grid and chunking were promoted as the first way to solve multiplication and division problems. People convinced themselves it was right, and even convinced others to write books on it to convince parents. It confused kids and parents. Calculation policies were in place, but the methods some children knew already were last on the list. Therefore some pupils never made progress because they could not do the first method, but could easily do the 7th (referred to as elite methods). This is like what Michael is saying with the screening tests – if a child is not learning with phonics, why feed them more phonics? All children eventually recognise words by sight – some do it much faster than others. A bright child will try and read the jabberwocky words on the test, this is instinct.

  23. IFERI (@IFERIorg) December 31, 2015 at 5:52 pm - Reply

    ” if a child is not learning with phonics, why feed them more phonics? All children eventually recognise words by sight – some do it much faster than others.”

    This is a completely mistaken view. If a child is not learning with phonics, then either the teaching is not as good as it needs to be and/or the child is less likely to be able to ‘intuit’ the alphabetic code independently and is therefore even more dependent on explicit phonics teaching.

  24. Rachel Gallagher December 31, 2015 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    Oh my goodness, all this debate! In my view phonics should be banned before reception. I am horrified by phonics teaching replacing rhymes and story telling in pre school settings. In my view (very experienced) phonics is an important way into decoding simple words at the beginning of learning to read. Then common letter groups such as ” ough” etc. in context are far more useful than advanced phonics. English is not a language that obeys many rules. Later/advanced phonics skills simply don’t apply to real language. For proof of this look at the detrimental affect on spelling. Not many English words are phonic – hasn’t anybody noticed?

    • darkwingduck January 5, 2016 at 8:08 pm - Reply

      Spelling scores are getting worse. It is no surprise that the children who read for pleasure score highly in spelling tests. It seems that the emphasis on phonics is resulting in children not reading for pleasure and as a result resorting to phonics when trying to spell.

      • Jacqui MB January 7, 2016 at 2:49 am - Reply

        Getting worse? I don’t remember a golden era of spelling. At secondary in the 80s, a lover of all things book, a veritable ‘immersee’, I was told my spellings were ‘er…imaginative’. Only dissection and memorisation helped me. The adult world constantly moaned about spelling.

        Through Rosen tinted spectacles, schools in my era were ‘full of books, with whole school and class libraries’. We had all that but we weren’t really immersed because library lessons were a chance to ‘doss’. Teachers – and our poor librarian – worried more about behaviour in the library than they ever did in the classroom. Silent reading was minimal after all the shushing and faffing and murmuring. Many of my peers never immersed their way out of illiteracy.

        Spelling and reading may be improved by lots of exposure to lots of books. But we come back to the same point – exposure as a strategy doesn’t work for enough children. Not enough children have homes where immersion will take place, or the rapid and easy reading skills required to enjoy reading for pleasure. We can’t immerse children sufficiently in the hours available in school. Michael’s RfP ideas are fab (if ancient – I’ve led many at various schools) but it’s simple maths. There are only so many hours in a day and a teacher’s time is divided by 30ish. Immersion, if successful, is precisely so because it takes place 1:1 or sometimes as much as 1:4, in the home, daily, over the best part of a decade. Reading for pleasure initiatives in schools, appealing as they are, are a drop in the ocean to the hundreds (thousands and thousands, I’d say) of hours described by Michael in the bath, with his cereal packets, on the bus… and beyond!

        School cannot replicate more than a fraction of that and so the problem remains ever unsolved – too many children are doomed to fail if we stick with only what we’ve always done.
        Leaving school unable to read well and spell accurately, with sixty years of working life (ideally) to navigate, now that’s Pressure.

        If spelling really actually is worse than ever before, it needs scrutinising quick sharp, but that’s quite a big statement to 1) make and 2) blame on phonics.

        We can all be doom and gloom merchants, presenting what we like as fact. We all do! Michael Rosen said in 2007 that education policy, especially phonics, was to blame for the ‘serious trouble’ facing the picture book – drill, skill, kill, or something hyperbolic like that. Just recently he tweeted, hilariously, that he’s campaigning to ban picture books. With all the decodables out there, PBs are just not needed. One or two followers were in shock, failing to use context to ‘read’ his ironic tone!

        Serious stuff. Was he right? Well, I’m no statistician but I don’t think so.

        This info tells us that in 2005 children’s book sales totalled £280m, and in 2014? £336m.

        According to Booksellers (Children’s Market Overview, 2015), by September, 2015 was on course to be the best year on record, ever, with picture books one of the strongest performing categories of all.

        Dawn Finch said ‘this is golden age of children’s literature’ and that she’d ‘never seen such a steady flow of extraordinary fiction’. John Dougherty said authors were ‘ahead of the curve’ and publishers ‘have taken risks’. Well, even if they’re not exactly right, it all sounds pretty rosy, not Rosen.

        Michel Nostrosendamus, have I got the figures wrong? I could be mistaken but frogs don’t seem to have fallen from the sky. Children’s literature appears not to have withered away – Walliams is having a whale of a time. Haven’t children’s books thrived since 2009?

        I’m not suggesting that phonics is the cause of the rise. That would be infantile. I’ve no evidence and we all know statistics can be interpreted and misinterpreted to suit any argument anyway. I’ve no idea if the very focus on standards that Rosen blamed is the cause of increased parental interest in reading and books. We can’t know. The figures do show, though, that bleak predictions have not come true. It shouldn’t mean we respect soothsayers any less; the very wisest of men, and women (I have an urge to quote Life of Brian…), are fallible.

        I love my clever but Dickensian father who thinks all women should have long hair. Not right!

        It seems that phonics – taught well or less well – has not harmed the sale of children’s books at all. It hasn’t come close.

        Similarly, it’s irrational and it’s fear-mongering to assert that the cause of any decline in spelling, if there really is a measurable one at all, is due to phonics per se, let alone that there is even a link. Phonics is simply a body of knowledge about our writing code. It can’t be blamed for anything.

        However, phonics can be taught poorly, brilliantly and everything in between. Knowledge about the alphabetic code should improve spelling, but if children are taught only simple and the most common correspondences, never moving to complex code with irregular correspondences, and they are told to apply only simple code when spelling, then spelling may be readable (better than not readable!) but not necessarily correct.

        A good grip of complex phonics is part of the answer to accurate spelling if it’s taught thoroughly and with guidance about choices between simple code and complex alternatives. From using phonically plausible spellings as the base, working from the point of view that spellings should, at least, be plausible, teaching spelling must include other strategies for complete accuracy. Just to be clear, I’m discussing varied strategies for spelling, not mixed methods for decoding.

        Beyond phonics, at the next level and simultaneous to teaching code is teaching of ALL OTHER spelling strategies. I needn’t list them – they are many and all are valuable.

        Our alphabetic code is simple and irregular but we can use the science of probability to navigate a clear path, in stages. This is a practical and efficient way to teach children to decode and encode, essential for a couple of hundred thousand children every year for whom the required Whole Language immersion experience turns out to be little more than a dunk!

        Phonics is the periodic table of reading. It’s essential but there’s knowing it and knowing it. Because so many don’t learn fully by osmosis, we should teach the code explicitly, all of it. We can use our know-how as teachers to teach this body of knowledge as well as any other. Listening to books read aloud and enjoying an entertaining visiting poet might be more fun than learning the representations of /or/, but we don’t design our curriculum content only around what is most fun for teachers and what children like best. Imagine!

        For ages, it was illegal to dissect the human body – thought to be unfathomably complicated, mysterious, sacred. Fast forward just a few hundred years and the human body, we’ve discovered, is more complicated and interconnected than we ever imagined, but even ordinary people now know how parts of it work, quite well. We are all better off for the dissections and investigations, yet no less in awe.

        With phonics, By dissecting the English alphabetic code to examine and know its common and irregular properties, we are better positioned to teach how the written code works. Nobody is saying that phonics is as easy as a b c, but it’s probably easier to learn than all the footballers’ names in my son’s Match Attax book, the endless renewable and non-renewable resources in Minecraft or the entire list of Skylander characters and their associated powers.

        The magic force of writing is all around us – Agreed. With all my literature-loving English teacher heart.

        But to let reading and spelling just happen, in a way that can’t be defined or examined, because it’s supposedly beyond the mind of its own inventors, is teaching on a wing and a prayer.

        • Michael Rosen January 7, 2016 at 6:54 am - Reply

          Your stats on the sales of picture books are meaningless (in relation to whether schools are buying them or not) unless you show a breakdown of who’s buying them.

          On the matter of golden eras…I don’t remember saying that ALL schools were full of books and school libraries at some specific moment in the past. I certainly remember some. I do remember a movement in the 1970s to attempt to create that, along with the ‘School Bookshop Association’ (I think) to try and get every school to have a bookshop where the children and teachers would choose what books to sell.

          I love the idea that you think my Reading for Pleasure thoughts are ‘ancient’. Well, in one respect, I would hope so: books themselves are ‘ancient’. If you know of better ways to get children to see, find, borrow, own and be amongst books, please do tell. As you know, there is strong evidence that children doing that benefit enormously in many different ways (Evans et al, University of Nevada).

          As I’ve said, I meet (and teach) teachers who say that they are having difficulties and problems with children who appear to be able to ‘read’ but who don’t appear to be understanding what they’re ‘reading’. Going all the way back to discredited Greg (a passionate exponent of SSP – and according to his stats, a highly successful one), his solution to this was to provide a literature-rich curriculum from Nursery to Year 6. Some teachers tell me that this isn’t what necessarily happens in their schools, nor is there any requirement for them to do so, nor is there any pressure from school leaders for them to do so. Or, more, when – for example – laying aside some time at the end of the day for ‘story time’ or some such, they’ve been told things along the lines that no learning was going on, that there wasn’t time for that sort of thing and so on. In its own way, a theory is being put into practice at this point by the leaders in question: ‘reading’ is not going on if the children are being ‘read to’. I don’t about you, but I would argue that some important aspects of ‘reading’ are going on at various levels to do with the absorption of the strategies of written text, the principles of cohesion and coherence in text, the structure of plot and argument and of course motivation, the core of which asks: why is it worth spending time and effort reading anything when it’s much more fun doing something else?

          • Jacqui MB January 7, 2016 at 11:22 am

            Meaningless, no. You claimed parents were no longer buying children’s fiction:

            ‘Watch parents as they go into newsagents and bookshops. Many, many of them make their way to the Carol Vorderman, ‘English Made Easy’ booklet section, £1.99 ‘with Gold reward Stars’. (How do I know – I bought one!) I don’t blame parents for doing so. The environment in education, the atmosphere, the pedagogic air they breathe has made them think that this is the route to achievement and success.’

            Clearly, it means that parents are, at least, buying children’s fiction and especially picture books we’re told by the report, more than ever before. The publishing industry and authors everywhere are celebrating, and so if I’m wrong, they are too.

            I’m on the case to see if I can find stats for school purchases of children’s books. Stats on school purchases of picture books, I imagine, will be harder still to pin down. But I’ll try.

            You’ll have me spinning straw into gold and guessing your real name next.

            My point is that your gloomy predictions about the demise of reading for pleasure due to parents losing sight of the importance of books in the home have not come true. The war you wage against phonics is unnecessarily over the top. There is common ground and eight years later we should be finding it for everyone’s good – parents, teachers and children. I understand that you want to see reading for pleasure retained, that phonics shouldn’t be boring and that we need to make sure existing good practice isn’t thrown out but I don’t understand why it has to be so very much either-or.

            Teaching decoding skills, teaching phonics, is compatible with promoting reading for pleasure. They complement each other. The one is enhanced by the other and undermined without it. They don’t work as well as they might without each other.

            Your suggestions are ancient, as old as the hills and, I said, fab. You seem to have missed my positivity. I was being positive. No dementor can zap the enthusiasm out of me! I didn’t say I had better ideas (how can I do better than fab?). I said your ideas were also ours, tried out in all sorts of ever-changing ways since long, long ago.

            My point here is that RfP strategies are well-loved and well-worn and have been for twenty years and many more. English teachers – and primary teachers – don’t need any prompting to encourage reading for pleasure. It’s in our blood. But these strategies haven’t really brought about any significant improvement in literacy levels across the country through the years, we’ve certainly been trying to solve the Our Day Out ‘Progress Class’ problem for decades, a point you never seem to mention. Reading levels, even in the days before phonics, never have been healthy enough.

            I brought Alex Pascall to my first school in Stockport (around 25% A*-C in English) twenty years ago and I remember he had the whole of KS3 & 4, all in one hall, eating out his hand. He was spectacular. In a festival of stories we held, I arranged for 14 authors, storytellers and cartoonists to visit the school in two weeks. Melvin Burgess forgot not to swear and Junk was an instant success – Trainspotting for teenagers, they thought, except many found they couldn’t manage more than a few pages because the text was too hard for them. They were inspired but inspiration alone is not enough.

            Since you asked…

            It was cool to be seen with a signed copy of The Grot Street Gang or Horowitz’s The Switch, cooler than a yo-yo for a while. We had the whole school writing in Skinny Melon and Me rebus code (very successfully even for those with limited literacy skills), and Y11 boys with tags on their ankles, sitting transfixed in storytelling sessions, mouths agape, listening to The Gingerbread Man of all things. We had dedicated library sessions weekly and private reading time daily. We had an ongoing postcard system for sending messages to friends in other classes to recommend books and passports for travelling through the world – each country a genre – of books. We took part yearly in the newly launched Stockport Book Award (which I helped to organise in the early days), focusing on new children’s literature, after a borough-wide Reading for Pleasure survey found that 20% of our children never read and another 20% rarely read for pleasure. We reorganised the entire fiction section by genre to promote reading of more authors (I spent my entire summer doing that particular job and I volunteered to help other schools in the borough do this too) and we made our own posters of our own teachers holding their favourite books to put up around school. Teachers talked about books in all subjects. We did more besides, all year long, for years.

            The one strategy we did not try, without the skills at that time to do so, was to address their decoding, to address the mismatch between their comprehension and decoding skills, to improve their actual ability to read in any focused and sustained way. At that school, then, around 70% arrived with reading skills below their chronological age.

            It’s no coincidence that, despite all this, Reading for Pleasure never took off for children who were not already relatively able readers. Some hated the library lessons – behaviour was a problem in many classes which was very sad. Lots dreaded silent reading time and very many read bits of lots of different books because they had no book ‘on the go’ and so took one from the class library each time. Practical issues kicked in beyond budget (I always remember Anthony Horowitz stayed overnight at our librarian’s house so we could pay for another author visit and we were very moved by that), and the reality is not as magical as our imagination at the planning stage. I know there was little more a school could do to promote reading for pleasure than we did. The children benefited in all sorts of ways, we expanded their horizons and they were, at least, thoroughly entertained on many occasions, but despite best efforts, habitual readers, more skilled readers, we did not make.

            I’m know there are some children who can decode but not comprehend what they read. They are likely to have come from language-poor backgrounds. Finding ways to extend their comprehension is a challenge with so few hours to catch up on the 16000 language-richer hours of others, spent at home before Reception. It’s not because they can decode that they can’t comprehend. That’s illogical. It’s like you in Italian. It’s not because you can decode Italian that you can’t understand it; it’s because you haven’t learnt the oral language first or since. For these children, limited language at home has disadvantaged them.

            There are plenty more children who decode badly which confuses what they would otherwise be able to comprehend. Both of these examples are effectively barking at text, not making sense of what they read. But a child who can comprehend more than she or he can access through print upsets me most. They have been failed by school.

            Reading aloud in school time is fun, no doubt about it. My daughter loves her teacher’s many brilliant voices which bring the book to life for her. She is in a school where they teach phonics right up to Year 6 and, simultaneously, a rich diet of reading for pleasure is very high on the agenda. I think they match most of your 19 points, apart from the reading liaison professional to communicate with individual families about reading books – a tall order for most schools to resource.

            However, I think you would agree that if the only exposure to books children receive is listening to one being read aloud by their teacher, they are unlikely to learn to read at all, especially if they can’t see the print from the carpet or desk, or if they stop looking at the print and study the ceiling instead. I think you’d agree that it’s necessary to see the print to learn to read it, even if listening extends comprehension in its own right. Teaching reading this way 1:30 is not going to be most effective.

            Just like your Italian anecdote, I have one of my own. I studied the Russian alphabetic code last year to write posters of English phrases in phonetic Russian so that a little boy from Belarus visiting us for the summer could speak to me more easily. I put them all around the house: phrases for playing in the garden, eating, drinking, going to sleep, getting dressed and brushing his teeth. I made about 20 posters with around 5 phrases on each and checked them all by email with my native Russian-speaking aunt in America. By the time I’d finished I knew the Russian code. It’s more transparent than English and very easily learnt indeed. I had memorised it in a couple of months.

            Shortly before the little boy arrived, while dusting, I picked up a Russian doll that my uncle had bought for me 40 years ago and noticed a Russian word on its faded tag on the base: сувениры. Instantly, with just a second or two to process the letters (it’s not yet automatic and effortless for me so I wouldn’t fancy tackling a whole page until I’ve practised my skills some more), I read the word – ‘souvenir’. I was elated. Learning to decode had unlocked the print that had sat before me for 40 years. I’d been able to ‘read’ it all along. The word is the same in Russian and English so I can comprehend this word easily. But I wasn’t able to decode it. Until now.

            The pure joy of being able to do that, on my own, without my aunt’s help to translate was extraordinary and it inspired me to try more texts. Quite a lot of Russian words are very like the English and many are French – I speak French and so there’s a bit for me to get my teeth into already, just from learning to decode. I can’t read whole texts yet but now I’m going to try to extend my Russian comprehension skills to match my decoding.

            I might be on Russian children’s pictures books this time next year!

            All best wishes,


          • Jacqui MB January 7, 2016 at 12:14 pm

            On the subject of ‘ancient’, books are ancient, as you say. But only so ancient. Writing was not part of our biological evolution, as far as I understand things. Humans invented writing. Writing is an invention, engineering if you like. It came long after (because) excellent thoughts had been thought, amazing stories told, and high levels of comprehension developed. It takes very clever brains to invent writing in the first place.

            Again with the ancients, I’m out of my comfort zone here and I’m not an expert on Socrates, but what I do know is that one supposedly of the greatest brains in history, with comprehension coming out of his ears, felt that real knowledge was really only gathered by dialogue, a give and take of questions and answers, not through reading or writing.

            I know that’s very interesting.

            It seems that his own great intellect was developed only/mainly? (I can’t say that with absolute certainty) through talk and thought. Comprehension is separate to decoding in that it is possible to be very able in one and not the other. One is developed through interaction with language, spoken and written if one can read, and the other is a low-level, learnable skill, necessary to learn to unlock the man-made invention that is writing.

            His view was, I think, that if you’re not already familiar with the real knowledge that’s written down you can only learn so much from a text, just as we can’t truly know what it feels like to be in a place just from a picture. Hmmm… I’m not sure how far I agree with that. I think lots can be learnt without books but also from books, but I’m nervous to contradict what sources tell us about the beliefs of Socrates so I think I’ll think some more on that.

            History seems to say that Socrates thought that reading would make people stupid. At least less clever and that the invention would produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it. It hasn’t made us stupid, has it? I hope not! But can we be sure that it hasn’t made us less clever than people in ancient times? We certainly have to commit far less to memory these days than did the Ancient Greeks, to the point that we question having to memorise anything at all.

            What’s great is he was a big believer in back and forth discussion and rhetorical argument to better reach knowledge and truth. Excellent. We are doing that, and I’m learning, even if it is in writing – in his view, a dead kind of speech.

          • Michael Rosen January 7, 2016 at 5:46 pm

            “Don’t simply let them read, because what are they learning?”

            In my encounters with teachers I have sometimes come across teachers who’ve told me that either school management or Ofsted have said things which indicated that it was a waste of time to let children do silent reading in school time and/or to do open-ended story-telling or poetry reading if there are no questions for the children to do. Some of this, they told me, was to do with making ‘learning objectives’ and ‘learning outcomes’ explicit.

            Anyway, I put out some feelers this morning to see if anyone could or would confirm my encounters.
            What you read below came from teachers.

            Just to be clear:
            1. I am not knocking teachers. Teachers have to do what they’re told to do. If they don’t, they risk getting the sack, or not getting a bonus.
            2. I am not saying that what you read below is going on in all schools. I don’t know how widespread or how exceptional it is. I have no idea.
            3. I am not saying that many schools are not doing precisely the opposite; and believe in giving children time to do ‘free reading’ or ‘silent reading’ or ‘choosing books’ or ‘listening to stories and poems’ galore.
            4. I am not going to write out here and now why I think this kind of free reading is important. I’m going to guess that most people reading this know that, and anyway, I’ve written about it many times elsewhere, including on this blog.
            5. If you would like to contribute your version of the quotes below coming from your experience, please let me know. You can write to my email. It’s on the top right hand corner of my website.


            “Many of the children had little or no access to books at home. Silent reading (so, having scheduled time to just sit quietly and read) was removed from the timetable because “there is nothing to assess” and “you can’t show progress”.

            I was asked to teach a Year 5 literacy unit on Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, but there were no copies of the book available. I queried this and the Head said, “Use the DVD. Nobody reads books any more. They just wait for the film to come out”.”


            “Was told explicitly not to simply ‘let them read’ because ‘what are they learning?'”


            ” I was told by my head that I shouldn’t do story time in my year 1 class when ofsted was there the next day. That day, they had observed my colleague in the other year 1 class and couldn’t see the ‘learning’ during story time. Ridiculous!

            Since then, I’ve worked more in junior settings. We were told the same about silent reading and had to chop it from the curriculum. It appears that unless children have a learning objective (and can explain why they’re doing what they’re doing and how to be successful at it) that we are seen as not doing our jobs correctly. ”


            “Silent reading and other chances to read are going on but it’s almost a clandestine affair. As teachers, we know and understand the value of reading but it’s almost like we feel guilty doing it. As you say there are no specific learning objectives for reading. If a teacher is being observed there is NO WAY they would let the kids read as the teacher would be unable to ‘show progress in learning’ which would automatically give that teacher an needs improvement/inadequate teaching observation result, which then has a knock-on effect to any pay progression that teacher might get.”

            Teacher (re told not to do silent reading):

            “I’ve also been told this. They said it was because I couldn’t be sure they were actually reading & not day-dreaming!

            During guided read, 1 group a day had a ‘read for pleasure’ activity. Teachers provided a lovely box of comics, football programmes, recipe books, catalogues, anything to grab their interest. The children loved it when it was their turn. When our school got an academy ‘principal’ I was observed and told I needed to give the children a focus, something like ‘choose a non-fiction book and write 5 facts’. Yet more writing, and it certainly got rid of the ‘pleasure’ bit….æ

          • Michael Rosen January 7, 2016 at 8:17 pm


            “In my school, in response to an Ofsted where we were told that reading had to feed more into writing, silent reading was changed so that teachers would do guided reading with one group, while the rest of the children worked on doing some work related to the book they were reading, so Instead of reading for pleasure, it was turned into another piece of work, which could never be marked as marking workload is tough enough.

            At one point, struggling readers were all in the same group so I tended to avoid free reading due to poor quality of texts and dull, age-inappropriate reading schemes that didn’t exactly foster a love of reading. I was told to use a very prescriptive phonics scheme with these children but instead rebelled a little and did lots of whole class reciprocal reading using higher quality texts instead, and worked our phonics into this. I did always find it tricky to encourage a love of reading for struggling readers with such poor resources available, so I used to give free reading choice once a week using comics, annuals and copies of children’s newspapers I got my hands on and encouraged children to read in pairs for support

            However, there is time once a week for reading buddies, where younger children read their book to year 6 children, which always works well.

            I suppose a way round a learning objective may be to create one such as: to read independently a text I have chosen… Very contrived though!”


            “I work in Y5 in large primary school.

            We are allowed to do free reading once a week during ‘early morning work’ (10-20mins). In guided reading sessions we can allow children to read but when I was observed, I was told I needed to give them a focus (a sheet to write stuff on whilst they read basically – looking for adjectives – that sort of thing). I don’t do that I still let them read freely and they love it. They pore over books in pairs, they bring in books from home to put in the book corner to share. Recently a couple of boys in my class redesigned our reading corner – making it really inviting, sorted all the non-fiction books into categories and labelling them, organising collections of magazines for children to enjoy. It’s a joy to see. Sadly, if I am observed again, I imagine I will give them a sheet to do.

            When I started here just over two years ago – the school was just introduction ‘story time’ – 15 minutes at the end of every day dedicated to reading stories to the class. I love the idea and did it most days with my class – getting through a good number of books. The problem is that to do the 15 mins- you have to steal time from your afternoon lessons. We only have 1hr45 in the afternoon (realistically a bit less once you have done the register) – because our mornings are completely full with English and Maths (including Guided Reading and Guided Maths). This means we have to fit all of our other subjects into the afternoons, including assemblies, two PE sessions, one computing session, science, topic, PSHE and all foundation subjects (art, history etc.) So we have to make a really hard call – do we prioritise science or stories? I want to do both!

            Over time, the profile of story time has diminished – and this year when we were given timetables it wasn’t mentioned. I asked about how we were meant to fit so many sessions into such short afternoons and was told nothing is statutory apart from RE. In my opinion the relentless push for results has narrowed the curriculum so much to the point where all we really place any importance on is English and Maths. We don’t even assess science or computing at my school, but the maths and English assessments are relentless.

            I hope my experiences may contribute something to the debate – not unusual I am sure!”

            Here are some more teachers talking specifically about silent reading being frowned on or banned in schools. I am also receiving other messages about schools which encourage silent reading and I can post those and others on another day. One thing at a time!


            ” In response to your Facebook post asking for teachers to contact you if they have been asked to suspend ‘free reading’ activities. Unfortunately, I can say that we have. We used to do a guided reading carousel and one day would be a group’s turn to choose what they wanted to read (magazines, non- fiction on any topic, comics, books of any reading level) and sit in the book corner (comfy chairs, cushions etc). It was deemed that there was no obvious learning objective and progress was not measurable.

            We also have a brand new library stocked with thousands of pounds worth of books. Not a single class in the school has any timetabled time to use it and teachers find it impossible to find time in the week to visit it. We used to have a library slot once a week where the children had time to explore books, loan them and then would choose one book to share and read together. They loved it.

            I am so bored of guided reading. Why can’t we just read a book together and enjoy it? I am constantly finding tedious links in texts to a list of 40 reading criteria used to assess.

            I’ve been teaching 5 years in one school and each year I’ve had to learn a new way to assess reading and writing. ”


            “I teach year 2 and I just wanted to add another story to all the messages you’ve had in response to your Facebook post about reading in schools.

            For the past two years I worked in a new academy in [—–]. My class (co-incidentally named Rosen Class!) used to come in and read silently (or with a friend) for 10 minutes each morning, until new management banned silent reading. We had to replace it with something ‘constructive’ like responding to marking comments in books. I ended up complying because they used to come round and check up on us and I didn’t want to get told off. Reading time certainly wasn’t allowed during our carefully pre-made, pre-rehearsed Ofsted lessons (when headteachers from other academies were shipped in for two days to pretend to be class teachers and TAs because they were so desperate to secure their outstanding judgement). “

          • Michael Rosen January 7, 2016 at 8:35 pm


            “I am a high school English teacher and have been teaching for eight years. Firstly I want to thank you for all the work and awareness you are raising about the way reading for pleasure is being forced out of schools.

            I am really terrified about what this means for the students and future generations of students.

            Seven years ago, OFSTED came to our school and saw silent reading in form time. In their feed back they said that this wasn’t a good use of time as they couldn’t “see the learning”. As a result leadership decided that silent reading wasn’t a good use of time and it was outlawed. Instead we were told to do activities in the library, like discussing books or doing a review of a book that had already been read. Someone made a box of activities on bits of paper. I was very angry and argued with leadership but they just keep coming back the the fact that they can’t “see” progress or “see” learning when children read (I pointed out that learning and progress are abstract nouns but this didn’t change their minds”)

            I still let my classes read in silence in the library but I am aware that if I am discovered I am doing something I am not supposed to be doing: reading in a library. I still find it ridiculous. I encourage reading for pleasure in every way I can, as do my colleagues and all KS3 students have to read at home for at least an hour every week. I just think that reading in a library with others is a really special experience.

            I am also concerned about the way novels are being taught in high schools, recently in an English teacher meeting someone said: “There’s no point teaching whole novels anymore, the exams are all unseen extracts, we only need to teach extracts from year 7 upwards”. There is one Shakespeare text and one 19th Century novel on the syllabus, every other exam is unseen extracts. Of course I challenged the reading of extracts, but I am concerned that this is something that could be happening in schools everywhere.

            So we are left with this situation: children are forced to read two difficult books that are not accessible for many of them, everything else they read is just fragmented extracts they have to analyse and they never get to read anything they want to read for pleasure. The result will be a generation of people who hate reading and have never had any pleasure from it. It is terribly sad.

            I felt compelled to write to you, I’m not sure what you can do. Often I feel like I’m not doing enough; the government changes are really stifling teachers.”


            “I’m a Primary School teacher and our 2-form entry school has a lovely, well-stocked, colourful library with shed loads of cushions, brightly-coloured bean bags, cosy corners, the lot. Sadly, it’s never used though because, according to the head, “There’s just not enough time in the teaching timetable.” The children never visit it, never spend time in it (unless they have a broken thumb so can’t go outside at playtime and so have to choose a friend with whom they can play chess or noughts and crosses), never browse books, choose books, borrow books, return books. Nope, it’s literally there to just look pretty. ”


            “At my last school we were a ‘read write inc’ school. This took an hour every day, then we had to teach handwriting, spelling and guided reading daily on top of that, as well as hear every child read once a week. We had such a restricted timetable that anything ‘extra’ was squeezed out. We were then told that if we taught ‘read write inc’ properly, it would cover story time sessions. Have you ever looked at those books? I think not.”

          • Michael Rosen January 7, 2016 at 8:42 pm

            “Reading for pleasure is something which we have been discouraged from doing as it does not promote progress, and yet we are told it needs to happen more. More and more it is expected that children read for pleasure at home, but our children are so demotivated by school reading and their parents not reading for pleasure we are really struggling to get them reading, especially further up KS2. We have also been discouraged from using the library by the school improvement adviser because it is not promoting progress. What about those vital research skills she asks about though? When do they get to learn those in a relaxed and enjoyable manner? As a lover of reading it’s a real struggle to see so many children discouraged in this way. My year 4s love nothing more than having a story read to them, but we are confined to reading 2 pages at home time amidst the noise and bustle of the other classes packing up so teachers can get them out on time so they can start the next 4 hours of work. How do we promote reading in such a busy environment?”

  25. IFERI (@IFERIorg) January 3, 2016 at 10:38 am - Reply

    Rachel G. said:

    “For proof of this look at the detrimental affect on spelling. Not many English words are phonic – hasn’t anybody noticed?”

    Phonics teaching should have no ‘detrimental affect on spelling’.

    If it does, then the teacher/school should address this.

    I do think this is a matter, again, for teacher-training. The danger is of teaching ‘only’ a simple alphabetic code first (introducing all the sounds systematically and mainly one spelling) without also referring to further spelling and pronunciation alternatives is that ‘invented spelling’ becomes the expected approach within the setting.

    That is why I really heavily promote the use of Alphabetic Code Charts which provide a more comprehensive overview of spelling alternatives and an easy, logical way of referring to spelling alternatives in teaching and supporting children to spell.

    I am not suggesting that teachers correct every word spelt incorrectly – but I am suggesting that the actual ‘notion’ of introducing spelling alternatives will set children off on a different trajectory of understanding the complex nature of the English alphabetic code.

    It is also very important that the whole teaching profession (in my opinion) should be trained in some basic understanding of the English alphabetic code and the role of phonics for reading and spelling new, longer and more challenging words and simple ways in which all teachers can support for reading and spelling not only in infant contexts but also in later key stages. I know that many teachers beyond infants feel ill-equipped to support weak readers and spellers and have to seek individual training provided by people such as me – and I suggest they should not have to do this as it should be part and parcel of their overall training.

    The more of the English alphabetic code that people know and understand, the more ‘phonic’ spelling becomes. Oral segmenting for spelling (whether at phoneme level of word-chunk level) are skills used and required by most people – including literate adults – and often they don’t even realise that they are applying ‘phonics’ as it is so subconscious.

    In other words, phonics is for life-long reading and spelling.

    If more teachers were truly knowledgeable about how to teach the alphabetic code comprehensively, along with the phonics skills, and building up knowledge of spelling word banks, then David Didau and his secondary colleagues would arguably not have to provide for teaching so many children with weak literacy skills.

    When people argue against phonics, I often suspect they don’t have a clear enough idea of what is possible in high-quality phonics teaching – and how this can be sustained in simple ways for ongoing reading and spelling as required.

    There are schools where versions of these English alphabetic code charts are utilised even in secondary contexts – for example, the mini charts have been printed in pupil planners and ‘giant’ charts are displayed in classrooms as required:

    The versions for teacher-training have been published in some universities literature for students.

    • darkwingduck January 5, 2016 at 8:10 pm - Reply

      Is it possible to receive a comment from someone who is not trying to sell something?

      • Jacqui MB January 7, 2016 at 1:42 am - Reply

        darkwingduck! The code charts on Debbie’s site are free. I’ve printed them many times for families who want to take action themselves. I love to share the free resources with parents I help. They’re enormously useful and, in fact, with the free charts I’ve found that I can do a lot of work on phonics with parents and children without the need to buy any more resources.

        I’ve been merrily using Debbie’s resources without paying her a penny at all.

        I was posting under the assumption that we are all genuine, whatever our views, in wanting the best for children we teach. I’m absolutely sure that Michael Rosen’s concern for the fate of real books is not a consequence of concern for the sales of his own titles. Or that he wants the author visits to schools to be made a priority to keep up his own profile. That would be ridiculous and overly cynical. I’m sure he doesn’t need to worry about either of those but, even if he did, I feel certain, by the nature and extent of his comments, that his views are genuine and heartfelt. I’m not assuming that researchers posting links here to their own works and projects are doing so for publicity or status either – they are entering into the debate and offering relevant evidence. It’s all valid.

        I prefer to assume sincerity, even if I’m at odds with the view expressed, and even if there are tones of sarcasm, annoyance, even anger from time to time.

        It’s only through extensive debate that opposing views will find common ground on which to move forward. It’s coming… I feel it!

        Best wishes,


  26. Eddie Carron January 3, 2016 at 6:38 pm - Reply

    Palmwoods State School in Queensland uses a very systematic phonics programme based centrally on the SP approach. About 18 months ago they added a short, daily perceptual learning component to their literacy curriculum which acting like a catalyst, accelerated the assimilation of the letter>sound correspondences. In a recent email, they claim they no longer have children with deficits in any of the literacy skills.

    They have produced a short video at

    Two other properly conducted projects in UK school groups start at the beginning of this term and three other schools have offered to produce videos showing how they use perceptual learning to ensure the restoration of literacy skill deficits.

    The ability to learn anything from instruction is known to be normatively distributed which is another way of saying ‘very unevenly distributed’ About 15% of children learn more readily from perception than from instruction and it is this group that appears to benefit most from this approach,

    • Michael Rosen January 3, 2016 at 10:03 pm - Reply

      What is a “perceptual learning component”?

      • Rachel Gallagher January 5, 2016 at 8:44 pm - Reply

        I have found that motivation is the key to all learning. All that phonics may suit some children but I’m a teacher who finds it dispiriting in the least. My dos affected boy pupils who fished with grandad, liked to read books about fishing where they could impress me with their knowledge. Others liked to find that they could make a good shot at reading a football report in a posh newspaper where they could even recognise the tricky foreign players names and connect with the language of the game. Older boys liked to read the Highway Code because the hoped some day to take the written driving test.
        Find the text that motivates and they will learn to read. Simples!

        • Rachel Gallagher January 6, 2016 at 4:50 am - Reply

          Sorry that my spelling isn’t good. Typing on a phone and in a train- that should have read “disaffected boys” and “they”

  27. Rachel Gallagher January 7, 2016 at 4:27 am - Reply

    Does anyone remember ITA or Colour CodedReading? All sorts of systems have been used to teach literacy through the years. Children used to learn by reading the Bible for a long time. Success or failure depends on the enthusiasm, belief in and dedication of the teacher to that method and the motivation of the pupil to learn. The later can be the result of the former. Systematic, enthusiastic teaching with lots of practice time…whatever the method, will get the best results. Oh, fun and joy help too!

    • Jacqui MB January 7, 2016 at 12:27 pm - Reply

      That makes sense, Rachel, that belief in and dedication of the teacher to the method affects success. I haven’t heard of colour coded reading – interesting. I’ll look that up. I suppose the problem with immersion as a strategy for schools is that a dedicated, enthusiastic teacher can’t spread herself/himself around 30 children with a book for a sustained period on a daily basis, and if they aren’t getting dedication and enthusiasm for books at home, there’s a vacuum to fill. Listening to children 1:1 has always taken place but not usually more often than 10 minutes or so, once a week. If we could have a couple of hours of that every day for every child it would probably make a huge difference. But how do we achieve that in our schools? It’s difficult to spread that couple of hours in a short school day (at home it might be breakfast, car time, in the shops, bathtime, bedtime – possibly more if there are extra adults helping out like grandparents) and a couple of hours in school time is going to be too intensive, perhaps. In addition, the typical school year is a reduced version of its 190 days. We need to sustain throughout the year. I think enthusiasm doesn’t guarantee success. That said, without it, any method will not be fully effective. I definitely agree.

  28. Jacqui MB January 7, 2016 at 11:17 pm - Reply

    Thank you Michael, I’ve had a look over on your website and can see all the posts. It’s easier to navigate them on your facebook page than it is here, so I’ll do that. I understand a quote or two is useful to illustrate a point but shouldn’t people be posting their own comments here and taking part in the debate themselves?

    Anyway, that said, I can see that the comments you’re receiving are mainly very negative.

    They are relevant, of course, to the debate about Reading for Pleasure which was the starting point for David’s post but my own first comment, re-posted as a separate thread, was about whether or not phonics was an essential part of teaching children to read in order to enable them to read for pleasure at all.

    All along I’ve been talking about whether or not exposure to books and immersion is enough on its own to teach all children to read, not whether or not reading for pleasure and the many strategies for promoting it in the classroom and at home (vital if they are to be lifelong readers), are important. I believe they are for many reasons, as you say, not necessary to list here. I’ve definitely made my position on that clear.

    Time to experience books is vital. It should be part of the school timetable. However, silent reading, something I often enjoyed myself (though I wasn’t always in the right frame of mind to read just when I was expected to), a feature of our classrooms for years as many of your contributors are saying, has not helped us in the dim past or recent past to solve the problem of wide scale illiteracy. My point is not to do away with it – at no point have I said that – I have said repeatedly that we need to ensure that quality phonics is taught specifically so that all children can actually read for pleasure, in school, out of school and for ever.

    I’m getting the impression that you believe age-old reading issues just can’t be solved. And that’s that. If immersion strategy doesn’t work for all, which it doesn’t, tough. We shouldn’t try anything else. We should stick to what we were doing before. Unless you do accept that immersion is insufficient for many and you’re suggesting we collapse the curriculum for free reading instead of teaching any subjects at all – that might offer enough immersion to make an impact on the children who, historically, never really move from novice reader to good, let alone expert, even by 16.

    In the main, the comments you have listed are about teacher’s attitudes to management and decisions, in some schools, to minimise or remove, we’re told, silent reading from the curriculum because it’s impossible to be sure whether or not learning is taking place. In these cases, it has been decided it’s not the best use of time and Ofsted doesn’t want to assess lessons that contain extended periods of silent reading.

    There concerns are connected, but it’s off course from my thread which is whether or not teaching phonics and reading for pleasure initiatives can work together, whether or not immersion alone works for enough children, and whether or not phonics needs to be an essential part of teaching reading.

    You said phonics was killing reading for pleasure. I said it shouldn’t and doesn’t need to and, in fact, directly supports RfP because it equips children with the skills to read effortlessly. Without which they can’t read with much pleasure at all.

    Back to my point, can teaching phonics thoroughly and allowing time for exposure to books be balanced effectively, given that I believe both are necessary for reading success? Delivering on one without the other is inadequate in my mind.

    Balance seems to be the answer in all of this. Ultimately it has to be. There isn’t enough time to do everything and so skilled managers need to plan time keenly to cover all bases as well as is possible, given all the constraints. No easy task.

    Your teachers are saying that this balance is not being achieved. That’s very sad. Leaving the need – or not – to cater for Ofsted inspections and judgements about silent reading aside, I’m saying I think it can be.

    You have much more muscle power to flex of course and a ready-made audience of loyal followers to call on. I’m afraid my offering will be something of a David to your Goliath but I expect you know that. I’m on the case though. My short contributions for tonight are below, just from my own children, and so just one school. It’s important to consider the reading experience through their eyes most of all, perhaps.

    It might be more fruitful for us to find out where and how delivering SSP along with promoting reading for pleasure and exposure to many different kinds of books is happening with a view to sharing the ideas positively, to look for practice where phonics is taught effectively and reading for pleasure is high on the agenda. That, perhaps, is the most sensible place for us to devote our energies.

    With that in mind:

    My eldest said of Year 6 (last year – and this was a class where about 8 children sat L6 exam papers in Maths, English and Grammar so there was a lot of extra curriculum stuff to juggle)

    We did some kind of reading every day. The teacher read aloud to us at the end of the day and the most recent focus I remember was a Horowitz one. We read Stormbreaker and one other which all the boys were excited about. He was always reading something to us every day although sometimes he ran out of time.

    [They did and I was very excited as he’s my favourite children’s author and so I sent Switch, Granny and The Devil and his Boy in for the teacher to share with the children as inspiration for reading. I also gave the teacher a copy of House of Silk for his personal reading for pleasure – he loved it!]

    We often read our own books after lunch and about twice a week but sometimes four times. Sometimes we read our books in a group and we all read a bit at at time.

    My youngest said of Y3 (I’ve tried to type words as faithfully as possible)

    She [the teacher] reads to us when we’re good but sometimes she just reads randomly. Now she is reading the Firework Maker in expression and funny voices and her own voice when someone said that. We all read in the morning but not every morning and when it’s wet play we always read. We do reading roundabout every day where we read fairy tales, picture books and sometimes non-fiction books and all sorts of stories. We sit in groups but we read our own books in our heads. We choose our own books. They are from the class library and we do that every day except Monday and Friday. One group reads out loud with the teacher one by one and it lasts until everybody in that group has finished reading. We do phonics two times a week or more in groups and some people go to different classes to do it. We do our spellings then and handwriting sometimes too. In phonics we look a lot at letters that aren’t heard like white to know if you don’t know there’s a letter we can’t hear but need to spell.

    All best wishes,


  29. Jacqui MB January 7, 2016 at 11:24 pm - Reply

    “the comments you have listed are about teacher’s [sic] attitudes to management” – just though I’d save you the job!

  30. Jenny May 11, 2016 at 8:06 am - Reply

    I do not remember much ‘reading for pleasure’ in my secondary school, and none in my primary schools, although my last primary school teacher read to us every Friday afternoon (Dr Syn and The Family from One End Street are two books I remember – Dr Syn set me off on an interest in history for life). Most reading had a purpose, for example reading a novel at home and then doing a long and involved comprehension (not just one liners, who short essay answers were required) – one a month, as well as a class reader (read round – torture for me as not everyone read fast enough and I always got in trouble for reading ahead) and whatever book we were studying in English – and frequently poetry (we did Rossetti’s translation of Villon’s Ballad of Famous Women which made me a fan of Villon for life) and short plays (we performed these with the book at the front of the class room). We also read in history (Unwin books, with lots of pictures – none of which would help a poor reader guess the words) and in geography, RE (King James – we read this aloud and our teacher explained the vocabulary to us, thus expanding our knowledge – I am sorry to say I now hear teachers saying that they cannot use the King James Bible as the children don’t understand the words – I rather think that is the point: teach them!) (sorry, Michael Rosen but careful punctuation is needed here). We also read in PE on wet days (about games) and in biology/chemistry and in domestic science (whole chapters on vitamins and nutrients which I have always found useful) and we read sewing patterns in sewing – but none of it was ‘for pleasure’ although most of it was a pleasure to read. So I think this silent reading business and lack of reading for pleasure in school is a red herring – children who can read easily and well and are introduced to lots of interesting ideas and subjects will read for pleasure: not necessarily novels and poetry, but magazines, motorbike manuals (!), recipe books, books on embroidery, history, travel etc etc.

  31. Jenny May 11, 2016 at 8:14 am - Reply

    We also read in French – whole paragraphs, stories and a magazine that the school subscribed to. The object was translation from French to English, of course, but not only did it get phonics into the heads of anyone who did not have them (our French teacher quite casually but carefully introduced us to French phonics in our first weeks at secondary school) but it was also informative – I had no idea French children had 12 weeks summer holiday and was amazed (they still have a very long summer vacation despite our governments telling us our competitors do not let children have six week breaks in summer (well, they don’t, they have much longer, frequently, as I can attest having taken foreign students into my home to learn English during the summer months) and was intrigued by a different way of living.

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