• Brief Encounters With Phonics

    Successive reports prepared by the National Foundation for Educational Research have shown that phonics is commonly taught alongside word-guessing – from context, pictures and so. In my book, Phonics and the Resistance to Reading, I described this as ‘partial phonics’ – in which bits and pieces of phonics are taught as simply one of a range of cues or searchlights.

    A common feature of partial phonics is that the daily phonics teaching sessions are very short. And many schools justify this on the grounds that the Notes of Guidance that accompanied the freely-distributed Letters and Sounds phonics scheme recommended “around 20 minutes” of daily discrete teaching of phonics.

    It would have seemed reasonable to teachers studying those Notes of Guidance to assume that the timing suggested was chosen on the basis that this was the amount of time needed to teach phonics effectively. But actually the 20 minutes was arrived at by way of a calculation of what was the maximum amount of time that the early years lobby would 'stand for'.

    And just how little the early years lobby might be prepared to stand for was brought home to me very vividly during a high-level meeting I attended just a few years before Letters and Sounds appeared. During that meeting I was astonished to hear a prominent member of the early years movement likening the early teaching of reading to teaching children to lie down in the middle of the road!

    So the 20 minute recommendation in Letters and Sounds appeared as a diplomatic gesture designed to placate the early years sector. The consequence is that years later many schools are still sticking to a time restriction that makes it virtually impossible to teach phonics thoroughly and effectively.

    How long is actually needed? It will, of course, depend on the teacher and the class, but somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour should be a basic starting point when planning-in the daily sessions. Sticking to sessions so brief that they are inevitably ineffective is not the only factor needed to explain why so many schools routinely short-change children in the teaching of phonics – but it makes a significant contribution to why so many children never become capable readers.


    • 1. Nov 21 2014 10:08PM by Debbie Hepplewhite

      Hi Mike,

      I cannot believe my eyes! I have only just recorded some video footage featuring your book 'Phonics and the Resistance to Reading' at the starting point - and mentioning the nonsense of 20 minutes discrete phonics teaching as promoted in 'Letters and Sounds' as the ending point! What synchronicity.

      As soon as the video is uploaded on youtube, I'll provide you with the link!

      Warmest regards,


    • 2. Nov 22 2014 2:32PM by Debbie Hepplewhite

      Dear Mike,

      See what you think of my commentary: 'Resistance to the Research on Phonics and Reading' and my promotion of your important book!



    • 3. Jul 10 2015 5:56PM by John Walker

      This is exactly what we at Sounds-Write find, Mike. We recommend thirty minutes or more every day, depending on the number of activities/lessons, and invariably hear people talking about twenty minutes.

      As you know very well, teaching children to read and write is fundamental to everything else that they do and if it's not done properly, they are banjaxed, sometimes for good.

      One of our most serious problems is that many of the early years lobby and many of the people involved in the assembly of Letters and Sounds have never taught phonics in their lives and therefore have no idea how exciting it is for little kids to be able to read and write simple texts from the start.

      I have, in the past ten minutes, just finished testing a secondary pupil who is a part-word reader and, to cut a long story short, she can't make sense of any but the most simple texts. Why? Because she makes so many errors or her reading is so laboured, she can't understand what she's read.

      I think I'll pass on a copy of your book to her parents when she comes for her first lesson next week :)

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The Phonics Blog

Welcome to The Phonics Blog which comments on issues and topics relating to the teaching of literacy and - especially - phonics, reading and spelling.

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Mike Lloyd-Jones is the co-author of the Sounds Together Systematic, Synthetic Phonics Programme, one of only a handful of phonics programmes to have been fully-approved for government match-funding for primary schools in England.

The level of anti-phonics hysteria has intensified in the last few years. Myths, misunderstandings and downright falsehoods not only persist but proliferate. Phonics and the Resistance to Reading is a robust demolition of the arguments put up against phonics and an exposure of the damage and harm resulting from the longstanding muddle of teaching reading using ‘mixed methods’. The book exposes the dark side of phonics denial, its social costs and human consequences. It's available in paperback or as an e-book from Amazon.

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