In 2011 the schools minister trumpeted the benefits of phonics teaching. But a quarter of seven-year-olds’ literacy skills still haven’t made the cut

Back in 2005, the BBC reported David Cameron (you’ll remember him), then shadow education secretary, saying: “The biggest problem facing education today is the fact that one in five 11-year-olds leaves primary school unable to read properly.” Moving forward to 2011, I was at the launch of the Reading Agency’s summer reading challenge, an initiative that encourages children to read books during the summer holidays. One of the speakers was Nick Gibb, then, as now, schools minister. He told us about phonics and said the phonics teaching being rolled out in schools in England would “eradicate illiteracy”.

I had to fill in one or two gaps for myself here. Some seven years earlier I had sat in a parents’ evening at our daughter’s school, while her reception teacher explained how they taught synthetic phonics. If Nick Gibb was talking about something new, I had to guess he must have meant more phonics, better phonics, more phonics everywhere, or all three. As I quickly discovered on my school visits, it also meant that children at the end of year 1 in 2012 would be tested on how well they had learned their phonics.

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