This website was first launched in 2004 at a time when the British government was promoting a method of teaching reading based on the National Literacy Strategy’s ‘Searchlights’ multi-cueing model (learners are taught a range of reading strategies which amount to guessing words from various cues). Debbie recognised the need to reach people widely to inform them of the Synthetic Phonics Teaching Principles so that they could make informed choices about reading instruction.
Prior to this in 2001, alarmed by the guidance for teaching reading in the (then) National Literacy Strategy, Debbie took over the editorship of the UK Reading Reform Foundation newsletter and soon after launched the RRF website and message forum. She learned about the empowering effectiveness of synthetic phonics through her own teaching and parenting experiences and from wider reading (like so many others, initially thanks to ‘Jolly Phonics’ and ‘Why Children Can’t Read’). Debbie and others described to successive Secretaries of State for Education the exceptional results achieved from synthetic phonics teaching compared to other methods as well as referring to wider research to illustrate the inadvisability of the ‘Searchlights’ multi-cueing model.
Nick Gibb MP (now Minister of State for Schools), listened carefully and worked hard to ensure a parliamentary inquiry ‘Teaching Children to Read, March 2005’. He welcomed the ‘Independent review of the teaching of early reading: Final Report, Jim Rose, March 2006’ undertaken by Sir Jim Rose and a team of inspectors. Rose’s recommendations led to the adoption of Gough and Tunmer’s ‘Simple View of Reading’ model and the official promotion of Systematic Synthetic Phonics teaching. Government ‘match funding’ has now been provided to support schools to acquire full programmes, decodable reading books, resources and training based on the official ‘Core Criteria’ for evaluating a synthetic phonics programme of work.
Meanwhile, daily, people from across the world sought Debbie’s advice via the internet and so she began to devise free resources to help their understanding. Eventually (2007) she designed a complete and extensive, online programme for all ages – Phonics International – whilst still providing masses of free information, including Alphabetic Code Charts and start-up resources. Debbie deliberately keeps the Early Years Starter Package and the full Phonics International programme very inexpensive to support teachers, tutors, student-teachers and parents as much as possible if they require systematic, detailed resources.
In 2009, Oxford University Press invited Debbie to update the Oxford Reading Tree approach to beginning reading and together they produced the very comprehensive, and well-received, Oxford Reading Tree Floppy’s Phonics Sounds and Letters programme for infants which is in line with the UK government’s guidance in ‘Letters and Sounds’. Oxford University Press went on to establish the free Oxford School Improvement site and the Oxford Owl parents’ site with 250+ free eBooks for children.
Debbie continues to work hard for world-wide promotion of an ‘Alphabetic Code Chart’ at the heart of reading and spelling instruction - available as a permanent reference visual aid in every classroom. Just as we commonly know about ‘the alphabet’, we equally need to understand about the letters and letter groups which are code for the sounds identified in English speech – the letter/s-sound correspondences of the ‘alphabetic code’ - and Debbie suggests a tangible chart is the universal way forwards wherever the English language is being taught for reading and writing.
- capable of being touched or felt
- capable of being clearly grasped by the mind
- having a physical existence