Articles – The Centre for Independent Studies

CIS victory on phonics

Tom Switzer

05 December 2020 | CIS

Jen Buckingham Sky News Credlin on phonics

Sinking scores, poor sentence construction, misspelling words. In recent years, the process of teaching school children to read and write has been such a disaster across the nation there was bound to be a correction. It has finally arrived, and I am pleased to say CIS has helped lead the way.

In a groundbreaking article in CIS’s Policy magazine in 2013, Jennifer Buckingham – a long-time education director at CIS, now a board member – along with professor Kevin Wheldall and Dr. Robyn Wheldall wrote a frank analysis of the problem and came to the conclusion that ideology was trumping evidence in government and university departments of education.

This article was followed by an event, “Why Jaydon Can’t Read: A Forum on Fixing Literacy” at which Jennifer Buckingham, Justine Ferrari and Tom Alegounarias exposed a worrisome fad in education. Schools had replaced time-honoured and proven methods of teaching reading with the “look-say” method or what has become known as a “whole language.” These new techniques, they argued, had no scientific basis and did not help children learn to read.

The result was that for several years Jennifer and the CIS education team, via research, media outlets and events, stressed the crucial role of phonics – the ability to recognise the relationships between letters and sounds – in learning to read.

As a consequence, we have achieved policy success. Last week NSW became the second state after South Australia to introduce compulsory phonics screening for Year 1 students. It follows the success of phonics in the Festival State. Whereas in 2018, just 43 per cent of Year 1 students met the expected achievement level in SA, this year 63 per cent of SA state school students demonstrated phonics skills at the benchmark level or higher.

No wonder the NSW education minister, Sarah Mitchell, has declared that the battle between reading by phonics and the whole language method is over and that phonics has won. For more, watch our 2018 CIS phonics debate in Sydney in front of nearly 500 delegates.

As the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and the Australian Financial Review have editorialised, phonics is the best way to detect quickly children who are failing at the first hurdle in school.

Watch Jennifer Buckingham’s Sky News interview re phonics

We have improved education policy for students across Australia and education remains a key issue for us at CIS.

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