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Systematic, Synthetic Phonics (SSP): Help us make a change. Sign our petition.

Tuesday 2 November 2021

We believe that the sole use of Systematic, Synthetic Phonics (SSP) teaching programmes does not meet the needs of all students, especially those with dyslexia.

Help us make a change.

What is the BDA asking the Government to do?

We are asking the Government to revise their guidance on teaching reading which was published in the Reading Framework in July 2021. This guidance promotes the use of Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) as the sole method for teaching reading.

Instead, we are asking the Government to support teachers to teach a structured, cumulative, and multi-sensory approach and a range of strategies alongside phonics instruction.

We know that SSP is a highly developed way to teach reading, and a critically important part of the beginning reading programme, but it has its limitations.

Why is the BDA asking for this?

When SSP is used as the only method to teach reading, it does not work for up to 25% of children [1], particularly those with dyslexia.

Dyslexic children and others with reading difficulties cannot learn to read just by learning phonics. They need explicit teaching and benefit when a range of approaches to teaching reading are used alongside phonics. We are asking for SSP instruction to be integrated into broader reading schemes, rather than used as the only method.

English is a difficult language to learn because it does not have a clear sound to letter correspondence. So many words are not pronounced as they are spelled.

Poor reading prevents children from accessing the school curriculum and has a lifelong impact, significantly narrowing future work and life choices.

[1] (McMurray, 2020, 2021; McMurray & Thompson 2016.)

What is SSP?

SSP stands for Systematic Synthetic Phonics. It is an approach which teaches children to recognise letters (graphemes) and their associated sounds (phonemes). It is also known as alphabetic phonics and involves breaking the word down into the smallest units of sound. So, for example the word “stand” has 5 sounds s/t/a/n/d.

Some children cannot acquire orthographic knowledge with this method alone. Orthographic knowledge is understanding that the sounds in a language are represented by written or printed symbols (i.e. letters of the alphabet) It is essential for sight word recognition, reading fluency and spelling development. Orthographic knowledge involves knowing if a word looks right. Most children acquire this implicitly from learning to read, but a significant minority do not acquire this skill automatically. For these children, phonics must be taught at the orthographic and alphabetic levels.

Orthographic level phonics includes teaching children:

  1. onset and rime patterns (such as best, west, test, rest)
  2. syllables (such as in/ter/est/ing)
  3. irregular or “tricky” words (such as the, eye, are, yacht, queue

For children with dyslexia, SSP is a significant contributor to reading failure because of the focus on taking each sound in turn.

Is there any research to support this?

There is substantial evidence spanning 35 years which demonstrates that as many as a quarter of all children cannot learn to read just by learning phonics, including most children with dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties. Children with reading difficulties need explicit teaching and benefit when a range of approaches to teaching reading are used alongside synthetic phonics.

  • Bowers, PG and Wolf, M (1993) Triple deficit hypothesis in phonological, naming speed and orthographic skills
  • Gathercote & Alloway (2008); Alloway (2011); Alloway & Alloway (2015)
  • Goswami, U (1986) Analogies and learning to read
  • Goulandris, N (Ed) (2003) Dyslexia in different languages
  • McMurray. S (2021) Understanding Difficulties in Literacy Development (book in press)
  • Muter et al (2004) Phonemes, rimes,vocabulary, and grammatical skills as foundations of early reading development.
  • Stanovich, K (1988, Reitsma, P (1989), Breznitz, Z (2006) Children with dyslexia have difficulty with automatic word recognition due to difficulties establishing unitised orthographic patterns.