Making deaf children matter

Musings and blogs from a deaf campaigner

Don’t mention the phonics!

Posted by Ian Noon on July 25, 2008

So after all that hard work in getting our campaign report written, published and launched, what have we achieved? Have we changed the world for deaf children and campaigned ourselves out of existence? Or was it all as pointless as Ray Quinn? Let’s take a look at what’s happened in the past month…

1) All MPs received a copy of the report and quite a few of them wrote to the Department for Children, Schools and Families to ask what the Department was doing about educational under achievement of deaf children. Quite a few replies have started trickling back to us. In one letter I’ve seen, Lord Adonis, the Minister responsible for children with special educational needs (SEN), says:

We support the aspirations of those, like the National Deaf Children’s Society, who believe that the perfomance gap between children with a physical or sensory impairment and children without special educational needs should be eliminated.

Ahh. The letter also says:

Our priroirty is to personalise learning, by focussing on each pupil’s progression, so that every child achieves their potential, whatever their starting point. High quality, systematic phonics… should be the prime approach for teaching children to read.

Arghh! Phonics is a way of teaching literacy to children which basically involves listening to the sounds of words. Because it involves listening, our report specifically says that the emphasis on phonics can sometimes be inappropriate for teaching many children literacy. So why is phonics being advocated as the prime approach? Slightly frustrating.

2) MPs have also been tabling questions in parliament on our behalf. Just before Parliament closed down for the summer, both Michael Gove and Simon Hughes asked about deaf children, which elicited an interesting reply. In one excerpt, the Minister says:

Our renewed literacy strategy builds on Sir Jim Rose’s independent review of the teaching of early reading by putting phonics at the heart of teaching reading in order to help to raise attainment levels amongst all pupils.

Arrrghhh! Phonics again!

3) We also managed to get lots of local papers from across the UK, from Glasgow to Cambridge covering our campaign, and highlighting how their local MP was supporting it. Here’s an example from Glasgow about Jim Murphy‘s support for our campaign.

Close the gap press cutting

Local press coverage like this is helping us spread awareness of the problem across the UK. Disability Now magazine also covered the story.

4) Finally, Lord Adonis has agreed to meet with NDCS in September. This is very good news, and will hopefully allow us to explain in person why the need for action is so urgent. And why I go “Arrrgh!” everytime I hear the word ‘phonics’. We’re currently thinking up our ‘hit list’ of things we want to ask him to do.

My overall assessment? Well, we haven’t changed the world, but then that was never really going to happen overnight. Some of the replies coming through so far are slightly disappointing in their emphasis on phonics, suggesting that key civil servants haven’t really digested this point.

But I hope we’ve created a wide and warm base of support from which seeds of action may grow. It is encouraging that MPs are raising issues relevant to us – sometimes at our prompting but often at their own behest. Clearly we have some way to go – but we’ve made some small steps forward.

What’s your assessment? Let me know your thought while I take some big steps forward towards the pub.

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2 Responses to “Don’t mention the phonics!”

  1. I typed in phonics and found your article through wordpress. Recent research in the United Kingdom showed that tests of the ability to distinguish isolated phonemes and syllables did not relate to tests of the ability to discriminate normal, everyday speech in any meaningful way. So why consider phonics for deaf children? I think if you are careful in the way you apply phonics, it can be helpful.

  2. mum said

    I have a 3 1/2 year old in mainstream school who was diagnosed with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss- moderate to severe in one ear and severe in other ear on 31st December 2008. They do jolly phonics at school. How can I help him at home – he cant tell teh difference between the sound “b” and “d” – If not using phonics, what should we be using?

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