Aston evaluates Primary school reading programmes


19 November 2015

A study conducted by an Aston University researcher has found two synthetic phonics programmes - Letters and Sounds (L&S) and Early Reading Research (ERR) - used by English primary schools to teach young children to read, to be equally effective overall. 

Although the two programmes differ in the number of phonic skills that are taught, the simpler programme (ERR) was just as effective  for children who start school with a good understanding of the sound structure of words and to some extent more effective  for children with a poor understanding.

This is one of the findings of a study by Aston's Dr Laura Shapiro and Dr Jonathan Solity, of Optima and University College London that is published today, 19 November 2015, in the British Journal of Educational Psychology.

Dr Laura Shapiro said: “Synthetic phonics is the widely accepted approach for teaching reading in English: children are taught to sound out the letters in a word then blend these sounds together. In this study we compared the impact of two synthetic phonics programmes on early reading in children over their first three years of school.”

The study involved 17 schools in England who used either L&S (seven schools) which teaches multiple letter-sound mappings or ERR (10 schools) which teaches only the most consistent mappings plus frequent words by sight.  Researchers measured children’s phonological awareness (understanding the sound structure of words) and reading from school entry to the end of the second or third school year.

Although the programmes were equally effective for most children the results indicated potential benefits of ERR for children with poor phonological awareness (understanding of the sound structure of words).

Dr Shapiro said: “It will be heartening for many parents and teachers to know that these programmes are equally effective overall. However, their impact on reading skills was linked to a child’s phonological awareness when starting school. Although further research is needed to isolate the impact of each aspect of these programmes, our findings suggest that including a narrow range of phonic skills is sufficient and explicitly teaching children to use two strategies for reading (sounding out, or recognising by sight) may benefit children with poor phonological awareness.”


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Editors notes

Full paper title:‘Differing effects of two synthetic phonics programmes on early reading development’

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