Authors: Dominic Wyse, Alice Bradbury.

Article: Reading wars or reading reconciliation? A critical examination of robust research evidence, curriculum policy and teachers' practices for teaching phonics and reading.

Publication: Review of Education (British Educational Research Association). Volume10, Issue1 - First published: 18 January 2022 2022 | DOI: 10.1002/rev3.3314

[Full Text]


Teaching children to read is one of the most fundamental goals of early years and primary education worldwide, and as such has attracted a large amount of research from a range of academic disciplines. The aims of this paper are: (a) to provide a new critical examination of research evidence relevant to effective teaching of phonics and reading in the context of national curricula internationally; (b) to report new empirical findings relating to phonics teaching in England; and (c) examine some implications for policy and practice. The paper reports new empirical findings from two sources: (1) a systematic qualitative meta-synthesis of 55 experimental trials that included longitudinal designs; (2) a survey of 2205 teachers. The paper concludes that phonics and reading teaching in primary schools in England has changed significantly for the first time in modern history, and that compared to other English dominant regions England represents an outlier. The most robust research evidence, from randomised control trials with longitudinal designs, shows that the approach to phonics and reading teaching in England is not sufficiently underpinned by research evidence. It is recommended that national curriculum policy is changed and that the locus of political control over curriculum, pedagogy and assessment should be re-evaluated.
Video Abstract:

Context and implications

Rationale for this study

Teaching children to read is one of the most important elements of primary education because it is fundamental to children’s educational development. For this reason it is vital that the teaching of reading, and curriculum policies on reading, are informed by robust research.

Why the new findings matter

If children are not being taught to read in the most appropriate way, because curriculum policy and teaching practices are not informed sufficiently by robust research evidence, then children’s education will not be as effective as it should be.

Implications for practitioners, policy makers, researchers

The outcomes of the survey of teachers in England, and the new analysis of systematic reviews and meta analyses, and randomised controlled trials with longitudinal designs, reported in the paper show the need for changes to the teaching of reading and to national curriculum policy on the teaching of reading.

The teaching of phonics and reading in curriculum policy and practice should more closely reflect the evidence that contextualised teaching of reading, or balanced instruction, is the most effective way to teach reading.

Tagged as: phonics and reading instruction


Wyse, D., & Bradbury, A. (2022). Reading wars or reading reconciliation? A critical examination of robust research evidence, curriculum policy and teachers’ practices for teaching phonics and reading. Review of Education, 10, e3314. https://doi.org/10.1002/rev3.3314

Excerpts from Full Text / Notes:

“Our findings from analysis of tertiary reviews, systematic reviews and from the SQMS do not support a synthetic phonics orientation to the teaching of reading: they suggest that a balanced instruction approach is most likely to be successful. They also suggest the need for a new more careful consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of whole language as an orientation to teaching reading. The reading wars have often resulted in some very dismissive attitudes to whole language, a position that is not underpinned by the research.”

“The goal of reading teaching is for pupils to be able to comprehend texts, ultimately in ways that include sophisticated understanding of texts and well-justified views about texts. The importance of comprehension means that the most relevant research about the teaching of reading needs to include measures of comprehension. The effectiveness of any reading teaching intervention also needs to be measured longitudinally.”

“Phonics teaching is most likely to be effective for children aged five to six. Phonics teaching with children younger than this is not likely to be effective. A focus on whole texts and reading for meaning, to contextualise the teaching of other skills and knowledge, should drive pedagogy.”

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