Authors: Carole Torgerson, Greg Brooks, Louise Gascoine & Steve Higgins.

Article: Phonics: reading policy and the evidence of effectiveness from a systematic ‘tertiary’ review.

Publication: Research Papers in Education (Taylor and Francis). 34 (2) pp. 208-238 2019 | DOI: 10.1080/02671522.2017.1420816

[Full Text]

Ten years after publication of two reviews of the evidence on phonics, a number of British policy initiatives have firmly embedded phonics in the curriculum for early reading development. However, uncertainty about the most effective approaches to teaching reading remains. A definitive trial comparing different approaches was recommended in 2006, but never undertaken. However, since then, a number of systematic reviews of the international evidence have been undertaken, but to date they have not been systematically located, synthesised and quality appraised. This paper seeks to redress that gap in the literature. It outlines in detail the reading policy development, mainly in England, but with reference to international developments, in the last 10 years. It then reports the design and results of a systematic ‘tertiary’ review of all the relevant systematic reviews and meta-analyses in order to provide the most up-to-date overview of the results and quality of the research on phonics.

Tagged as: phonics, reading instruction, reading policy, and synthetic phonics


Torgerson, Carole and Brooks, Greg and Gascoine, Louise and Higgins, Steve (2019) ‘Phonics : reading policy
and the evidence of effectiveness from a systematic `tertiary’ review.’, Research papers in education., 34 (2) pp. 208-238

Excerpts from Full Text / Notes:

“Given the evidence from this tertiary review, what are the implications for teaching, policy and research? It would seem sensible for teaching to include systematic phonics instruction for younger readers – but the evidence is not clear enough to decide which phonics approach is best. Also, in our view there remains insufficient evidence to justify.”a ‘phonics only’ teaching policy; indeed, since many studies have added phonics to whole language approaches, balanced instruction is indicated.”

“Most of the reviews are supportive of phonics teaching, but this conclusion needs to be tempered by two potential sources of bias: design and publication bias. Both of these problems will tend to exaggerate the benefit of phonics teaching. Furthermore, there is little evidence of the comparative superiority of one phonics approach over any other.”

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