RRF Conference 2006: Jim Rose on 'The Rose Report'

Transcripts and Reports of Talks given at past RRF Conferences.
Susan Godsland

RRF Conference 2006: Jim Rose on 'The Rose Report'

Post by Susan Godsland »


Jim Rose started by saying that Mona McNee used to harass the life out of him when he was in the inspectorate and that he was very glad that she had. We are now in the business of moving forward. Literacy is a universal goal, both nationally and internationally. We all agree on the end that we want, which is for children to read and write well – what we now need to concern ourselves with is the means to that end.

The debate has sometimes been very rancorous, and this can paralyse action, so that teachers are left unsure about the importance of phonic work in general and systematic synthetic-phonic work in particular. We have been in this state for far too long. There must be an entitlement to literacy for every child. The government’s target is to reduce inequality at the earliest possible stage. We are never out of the political arena because of issues of resources and funding. The game we are now in is ‘quality, quality, quality’. [This was related to Tony Blair’s statement in 1997 that Labour’s priorities were ‘education, education, education’].

The review had five aspects:

* Expectations for best practice in early reading and synthetic phonics
* Relationship to revised NLS Framework for Teaching and the new EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage)
* Best provision to help children with significant literacy difficulties catch up
* Impact of leadership and management, and practitioners’ subject knowledge and skills
* Value for money/cost effectiveness of different approaches.

There had not been time to go into detail on the value-for-money question, so the review team had looked at it largely in terms of training.

Jim Rose himself had been given a fully independent position in responding to the remit for the review. The reason for the review was that the National Literacy Strategy (NLS), which later became part of the Primary National Strategy (PNS), was due for revision. It was recognised that a better model of reading was needed. There was also an EYFS consultation in progress at the time; the foundation stage starts before statutory schooling begins but continues into the statutory period.

The major parties are marching in step on these issues. The parliamentary Select Committee took evidence from a number of people, and would have been even more convinced if they had got out and about more. The Rose team had got out and about: its members had done some ‘serious visiting of schools’ to see what worked well. They had also looked at a wide range of research.

There was concern about the slowing of progress on achieving national targets. The National Curriculum had been introduced in 1989 but had had very little impact on standards of reading and even less on writing. The differences between boys and girls, and between children from advantaged and disadvantaged homes, seemed to be widening.

In 1998, when the National Literacy Strategy was introduced, 65% of Year 6 children reached Level 4 in the Key Stage 2 tests. By 2005, the figure was nearly 80%, but in 2006, progress for English seemed to have stalled. In actual numbers, some 90,000 children at the end of Key Stage 1 (age 7) and 96,000 children at the end of Key Stage 2 (age 11) are not reaching national targets for their age. Against this background, in the best interests of children, we need to continue to win hearts and minds in favour of high-quality phonic work embedded in a high-quality curriculum. It is not enough to simply deliver a report – the hard work starts now in delivering its recommendations.

There is no doubt that views of phonics have changed radically. Opposition to phonics goes back a long way. Jim Rose quoted two 18th-century writers. One described phonics as ‘A droll way of teaching’, ‘Senseless playing with sounds’ and ‘mere fiddlesticks’, while another described it as ‘a greater prejudice than the burning of witches and heretics; indeed it is a greater crime than the rack and all the inhumanities lumped together… It begets stupidity, illness and death itself. It is child-torture – a slower and surer child-murder’!

Nowadays, systematic phonic work is accepted on the basis of robust research: ‘These findings show that systematic phonics instruction produced superior performance in reading compared to all types of unsystematic or no phonic work. Phonics instruction is systematic when all the major grapheme-phoneme correspondences are taught in a clearly defined sequence’ (USA National Reading Panel , Ehri 2003).

Jim Rose pointed out the importance of oral language development – the development of speaking and listening – in the early years to pave the way for systematic phonics teaching and develop language comprehension. Principled professional decisions have to be made about when to start systematic phonics, but there was plenty of evidence from observing good practice to show that the majority of children benefited from starting on such a programme by the age of five.

He was attracted to the ‘simple view’ of reading: comprehension of a text obviously depends on being able to read the words on the page. The ‘simple view of reading’ quoted in his Review explored how word recognition and language comprehension processes are related.

He posed three questions:

1. Why did the National Curriculum not raise standards of reading and writing as expected?
2. What gave rise to the surge in standards during the seven years of the NLS?
3. Why are standards now stalling?

Jim Rose suggested the following answers:

1. The National Curriculum did not win the hearts and minds of primary teachers. ‘Instruction’, as a term, was often disapproved of, especially in the early years. The prevailing view tended towards view that ‘child-led’ activity was good and ‘teacher-led’ learning was not so good.
2. The NLS did secure more structured teaching, but things do not change overnight – teachers ‘hedged their bets’ by using a mixture of methods. Some children ‘caught on’, probably because of commercial schemes – but the Rose team sometimes saw poor use of good schemes. For example, there was particular inattention to the skill of blending.
3. The stalling probably occurred because we had reached the limitations of the ‘searchlights’ model. Jim Rose quoted the 2002 OFSTED report which stated that this model ‘has not been effective enough in terms of illustrating where the intensity of the searchlights should fall at different stages of learning to read. While the full range of strategies is used by fluent readers, beginning readers need to learn how to decode effortlessly, using their knowledge of letter-sound correspondences and the skills of blending them together’. The ‘searchlights’ model confounded decoding and comprehension.

The ‘simple view’ of reading should take us forward, but it will not do so unless teachers understand it. We need to train well and monitor progress – we owe it to children and parents to do so. ‘We’ll never get away with lack of accountability – nor should we.’

Jim Rose stressed the importance of knowledge and skills. Just as numbers are the ‘alphabet’ of maths (they just have to be taught and learnt), so, too, the knowledge and skills needed for reading need to be taught and learnt. He mentioned how his grandfather had started teaching him to read in the 1940s, using the words ‘Jim Rose sat on a pin Jim rose’! Parents and grandparents can be an enormous advantage. But what if they can’t help? The school must then do it all.

The features of high quality phonic work are as follows:

· Grapheme-phoneme correspondences [are] taught in a clearly defined incremental sequence

· [the child] blends phonemes all through the word in the order they appear to read words

· [the child] segments words into their constituent phonemes to spell

· short, discrete, daily sessions [are] taught within a broad and rich curriculum

· [the work is] multi-sensory, engaging, enjoyable

· [the phonic work is] time limited – the balance changes from ‘learning to read to reading to learn’.

There are different programmes, but they work on similar principles. The final Rose report had stated, ‘The common elements in each [systematic] programme – those that really make a difference to how well beginner readers are taught and learn to read and write – are few in number’.

Given the nature of research it is likely that there will be a continuing robust debate about reading and aspects of phonic work. The Rose team had been impressed as much by practice as by research. Why make it difficult for teachers by overplaying uncertainties in research in a way that makes them ‘keep all the plates spinning’ when one approach is obviously at least as good as, if not better than, others?

The Rose review had implications for training:

· Those who teach beginner readers need to understand the principles of high-quality phonic work, including the simple view of reading

· It is important that initial teacher training institutions (ITT) and other providers ensure that the principles are reflected in their training

· The Primary National Strategy team and the Teacher Development Agency need to undertake joint work to offer support for ITT on the review recommendations.

Jim Rose finished his presentation with a joke about ‘the power of the phoneme’: an extract from a church bulletin which ran, ‘This evening at 7 p.m. there will be hymn singing in the park across from the church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.’

During questions, he mentioned visiting a school in Bristol where boys were reading and writing particularly well and enjoying it. Children were taking pride in the fact that they could read – success was its own reward. A comment from the floor by Marlynne Grant made it clear that this school was St Michael’s (see Newsletter 52) where children have poor language skills on entry. Jim Rose also mentioned that the electronic framework, available since early October, was not perfect in every respect – it can be changed. In response to a point made from the floor that Key Stage 2 teachers, as well as KS1 teachers, needed to be trained to teach phonics, he said that the ‘time-limited’ nature of phonic work does not mean ‘turning the tap off’ – ‘all primary teachers need to know why and how to teach it’.