30th March, 2021: The DfE announces U-turn of its decision to revise Letters and Sounds (DfES, 2007)

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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30th March, 2021: The DfE announces U-turn of its decision to revise Letters and Sounds (DfES, 2007)

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Tue Mar 30, 2021 11:46 pm

This is potentially huge news in England's context with implications for schools overseas too.

You can read the DfE's announcement here:

https://phonicsinternational.com/forum/ ... php?t=1153

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Re: 30th March, 2021: The DfE announces U-turn of its decision to revise Letters and Sounds (DfES, 2007)

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Tue Apr 06, 2021 1:47 pm

Over a number of years I have written about 'Letters and Sounds' (DfES, 2007) being more akin to a framework than a 'full' SSP programme as it necessitated teachers equipping it with teaching and learning resources. It was also suggested in the publication that teachers needed a mnemonic system ('aid to memory' such as using the picture and word of 'snake' to represent the /s/ sound) but did not provide a mnemonic system.

Here are some examples of what I wrote some years ago:

https://debbiehepplewhite.com/2013/11/

https://debbiehepplewhite.com/2013/12/

Based on my observations in many schools, I created this graphic in the structure of the Simple View of Reading diagram in 2015:

https://phonicsinternational.com/Simple ... chools.pdf

News then filtered out that the current Department for Education was planning to publish a 'revised Letters and Sounds' which caused a great deal of consternation and a behind-the-scenes debate as to whether this was the right thing for a government to do.

Finally, on 30th March 2021, the DfE produced a statement acknowledging that 'Letters and Sounds' "was never a full Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) programme' and confirming that the decision to publish a revised version had been reversed.

I noted this turn of events here:

https://debbiehepplewhite.com/no-3-the- ... blication/

Well - it only took 14 years for that admission. What a pity the DfES back in 2007 didn't publish a genuine 'framework' of guidance for teachers - not in the form of an SSP programme - or quasi programme - that in reality competed with genuine SSP programmes that were already fully-equipped and preceded Letters and Sounds 2007 thus causing many teachers and children hardship as, school by school, teachers translated and equipped Letters and Sounds in their own way.

As I say in my post - what will happen next?.....

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Re: 30th March, 2021: The DfE announces U-turn of its decision to revise Letters and Sounds (DfES, 2007)

Post by chew8 » Thu Apr 08, 2021 9:54 am

Whether the 2007 L&S is a ‘programme’ or ‘more akin to a framework’ as Debbie thinks depends on whether resources are considered to be an essential feature of a programme. Debbie thinks they are, but I don’t – nor, apparently, does Diane McGuinness, who is respected by many RRFers, including me. I recently posted in this forum about her Sound Steps to Reading (2008). In the Introduction, she calls it ‘a complete program for teaching beginning readers’, and yet it provides no more resources than L&S. As I’ve often mentioned, the DfE (DfES at the time) had agreed with commercial publishers before work started on L&S that it would not compete in terms of resources, and I was happy to help with it on that basis.

Whether or not the lack of resources prevents it from being a ‘programme’ is unimportant, though, compared with whether it is effective. I’ve also recently posted in this forum about searches I’ve done on Phonics Screening Check results which have shown L&S schools performing as well, on average, as schools using other programmes. I didn’t mention there, but will do so now, that the range in percentage pass-rate across programmes (L&S, Debbie’s, Sounds Write, Read Write Inc. and Jolly Phonics) was also similar – from the high 60s to the high 90s or 100 in some cases.

I started communicating privately with Debbie about L&S issues some time ago, and have recently sent her a list of 17 schools I’ve found using her programmes and PSC results as published by the schools themselves. I’ve always been open to the possibility that what I’ve found may not be typical and that she might be able to provide data showing this, but it hasn’t happened so far.

Debbie knew long before I did that the DfE had decided to publish a revised L&S. That decision has now been reversed, but apparently only in the sense that the DfE itself is not doing the publishing. A revised version is being produced by some Hub schools, however, and the DfE seems to approve to the extent that it has produced an ‘example progression’ which is ‘based on the practice of particular highly effective schools in the English Hubs programme, and is one example that could be used to inform the development of a new, complete Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) programme’. I haven’t been involved at all with any of this.

My concern has always been for the literacy welfare of children. I contributed to the 2007 L&S in the belief that it would help children in the many schools which, at the time, were not using good commercial programmes, and I think it has done that, judging by the number of schools using it and the improvement in PSC results from 2012-19. The campaign against it and the revision has obviously led to the present situation, however, and it remains to be seen whether or not children benefit.

Jenny C.

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Re: 30th March, 2021: The DfE announces U-turn of its decision to revise Letters and Sounds (DfES, 2007)

Post by chew8 » Wed Jul 21, 2021 3:52 pm

An important part of Letters and Sounds, as originally issued, was the DVD. It showed the practicalities of synthetic phonics very clearly in real classrooms using different commercial programmes, with lots of participation by children. Possible resources were also shown, both commercial and school-produced. Commercial publishers agreed to the filming in schools using their programmes, so obviously didn’t object. I’ve recently watched the DVD for the first time in many years, and think it’s very good.

This reminded me that L&S was archived in 2012 but that the ‘paper’ part remained available on line whereas the DVD didn’t. The archiving was discussed in this RRF forum thread:

https://rrf.org.uk/messageforum/viewtop ... s+archived

That thread shows that I asked a DfE contact about it and was told that the archiving was not specific to L&S but was part of a general policy applied to everything produced under the previous (Labour) administration. BUT…how could the DfE say that L&S ‘should not be considered to reflect current government policy or guidance’ when it had quite recently been validated as meeting the DfE’s own criteria as they then were? Why keep the paper part available but not the part which showed what things looked like in practice? It looks as if the DfE's right handsdidn’t know what its left hand was doing.

If the DVD had remained available, it would have been much harder for the DfE to say in March 2021 that L&S was not fit for purpose. Little Wandle Letters and Sounds Revised includes brief ‘How to’ video-clips. What about other programmes which are now validated?

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