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A pioneering seven-year project testing a new method of teaching primary children to read and spell has ended – with results proving that the new method helped children learn faster.

The results of the innovative project, led by psychologists Dr Joyce Watson and Professor Rhona Johnston of the Universities of St Andrews and Hull respectively, are being announced today by the Scottish Executive. In a report by the Education Department, they will spell out why the high-speed literacy technique has been successful and why other schools should consider using the technique against traditional teaching methods.

Though initially piloted in schools in Clackmannanshire over the last seven years, the project, known as ‘synthetic phonics’, has successfully been launched in a further 300 Scottish schools and in England. Due to its success in the region, the method has been undertaken by all 19 primary schools in Clackmannanshire.

The programme, devised by Dr Watson and Professor Johnston at St Andrews, involves teaching primary one children to read by learning more than one letter sound at a time. The synthetic phonics method involves children learning initial, middle and final letter sounds of a word so that they learn to blend words from the beginning. The traditional method (analytical phonics) involves children being taught one initial letter sound at a time right through the alphabet, before moving on to putting letters together to form words.

The study found that after seven years the children taught by the new approach read and spelt words well above what would be expected from their chronological age. One significant finding over the last few years has been the surprising result that boys outperformed girls. The results are long- lasting over the seven year period, demonstrating consistent successful results.

The researchers report that: “At the end of the seventh year at school, when the children were around 11.5 years old, they were reading at a 15 year old level. That is, word reading was 3.5 years ahead of chronological age. Spelling was 1.75 years ahead of chronological age.

“The boys were significantly ahead of the girls in word reading and spelling: their word reading was eleven months ahead of the girls and their spelling was nearly nine months ahead of the girls.”

The new method involves learning by interaction, including song and a multi-sensory approach involving seeing and touching. Teachers have reported that pupils not only benefit from the method in terms of accelerated learning and increased confidence, but they also find it a fun way of learning.

In the study, 304 primary one children were taught to read and spell with the new technique – each week, they spent twenty minutes a day learning letter sounds, building up a recognition of words containing all of the taught letters. This recognition meant they could apply their knowledge to completely new words.

Education Minister Peter Peacock said today: “These results show that innovative approaches to core subjects really can help our children achieve more at school. These youngsters have a head start in reading and writing. This strong foundation will prepare them well for the challenges of secondary school and adult life.

“It is clear that these teaching methods work for schools and pupils across Clackmannanshire and it is encouraging to see the benefits. Through synthetic phonics, attainment levels for boys and for children from more deprived homes have been driven up. Schools across Scotland already have the freedom to find ways of teaching that best suits their pupils’ needs and this study demonstrates just what can be achieved.”

ENDS

NOTE TO EDITORS:

THE RESEARCHERS ARE AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW:

DR JOYCE WATSON – 01333 310622 PROFESSOR RHONA JOHNSTON (INTERMITTENTLY TODAY) – 01482 465595

CASE STUDIES OR QUOTES FROM THE SCHOOL TEACHERS INVOLVED CAN BE OBTAINED FROM KAREN PAYTON, COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, CLACKMANNANSHIRE COUNCIL, TEL: 01259 452027

· The full title of the study is: ‘The Effects Of Synthetic Phonics Teaching On Reading And Spelling Attainment: A Seven-Year Longitudinal Study’.

Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook, Press Officer on 01334 467227 / 462529, mobile 07900 050 103, or email gec3@st- andrews.ac.uk Ref: Easy as abc 100205.doc View the latest University press releases at http://www.st- andrews.ac.uk

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