Phonic work is best understood as a body of knowledge and skills about how the alphabet
works, rather than one of a range of optional 'methods' or 'strategies' for teaching
children how to read. For example, phonic programmes should not encourage children
to guess words from non-phonic clues such as pictures before applying phonic knowledge
and skills. High quality phonic work will make sure that children learn:
Grapheme/phoneme (letter/ sound) correspondences ( the alphabetic principle) in a
clearly defined, incremental sequence;
To apply the highly important skill of blending (synthesising) phonemes, in order,
all through a word to read it;
To apply the skills of segmenting words into their constituent phonemes to spell;
Blending and segmenting are reversible processes.
Teachers will make principled, professional judgements about when to start on a systematic
programme of phonic work but it is reasonable to expect that the great majority of
children will be capable of, and benefit from doing so by the age of five. It is
equally important for the programme to be designed so that children become fluent
readers having secured word recognition skills by the end of key stage one.
The programme should introduce a defined initial group of consonants and vowels,
enabling children, early on, to read and spell many simple CVC words.
If the programme is high quality, incremental and systematic it will, by design,
map progression in phonic knowledge and skills. It should therefore enable teachers
to: track children's progress; assess for further learning and identify incipient
difficulties, so that appropriate support can be provided.
Multi-sensory activities should be interesting and engaging but firmly focused on
intensifying the learning associated with its phonic goal. They should avoid taking
children down a circuitous route only tenuously linked to the goal. This means avoiding
over-elaborate activities that are difficult to manage and take too long to complete,
thus distracting the children from concentrating on the learning goal.
Following the Rose Report (2006) the government published ‘core criteria’ to govern
programmes used for phonic work:
Criteria for assuring high quality phonic work
Published programmes for phonic work should meet each of the following criteria.
Further explanatory notes are offered at Annex A.
The programme should:
present high quality systematic phonic work, as defined by the Independent review
of teaching of early reading and now encapsulated in the Primary Framework, as the
prime approach to decoding print (note 1).
enable children to start learning phonic knowledge and skills systematically by the
age of five with the expectation that they will be fluent readers having secured
word recognition skills by the end of key stage one (note 2).
be designed for the teaching of discrete, daily sessions progressing from simple
to more complex phonic knowledge and skills and covering the major grapheme phoneme
correspondences (note 3).
enable children's progress to be assessed (note 4).
use a multi-sensory approach so that children learn variously from simultaneous visual,
auditory and kinaesthetic activities which are designed to secure essential phonic
knowledge and skills (note 5).
demonstrate that phonemes should be blended, in order, from left to right, 'all through
the word' for reading
demonstrate how words can be segmented into their constituent phonemes for spelling
and that this is the reverse of blending phonemes to read words
ensure children apply phonic knowledge and skills as their first approach to reading
and spelling even if a word is not completely phonically regular
ensure that children are taught high frequency words that do not conform completely
to grapheme/phoneme correspondence rules
ensure that, as early as possible, children have opportunities to read texts (and
spell words) that are within the reach of their phonic knowledge and skills even
though every single word in the text may not be entirely decodable by the children
In March 2005, the Select Committee on Education and Skills recommended that the
DfES commission research to compare synthetic phonics ‘fast and first’ with other
methods. The research, using control groups, did not happen. However, in response
to the recommendations, the DfES did ask Jim Rose to review the teaching of early
His report is the result of visits to schools, interviews with a wide range of experts
and examination of the evidence. He wrote, “the case for systematic phonic work is
overwhelming and much strengthened by a synthetic approach”. The government accepted