Next week (Thursday 9th November) I will be giving evidence at a hearing in the Scottish Parliament on the petition that I submitted over the summer.
Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to
i) provide national guidance, support, and professional learning for teachers in research-informed reading instruction, specifically systematic synthetic phonics;
ii) ensure teacher training institutions train new teachers in research-informed reading instruction, specifically systematic synthetic phonics.
It is almost three years since I began campaigning and raising awareness of the importance of research-informed reading instruction in Scotland – and despite writing opinion pieces for TESS, writing emails to MSPs, Angela Constance, John Swinney, Education Scotland and the GTCS – there has been little interest in the evidence and a petition seemed like my last and only option.
The petition process has been enlightening. It is normally supposed to take two weeks to go live for signatures; mine took six weeks and was conveniently published online at the start of the summer holidays. Two official submissions were received by the clerking team in support of the petition in July, but most people are unaware of this as they only appeared on the website recently. In terms of signatures, the petition received an underwhelming 282 – but many, many thanks if you were one of them. (Special thanks to my gran and our sheep shearer!). Encouragingly, signatures were also collected from several high-profile international experts, academics, and researchers in the field of reading including, but not limited to: Dr Jennifer Buckingham, Dr Kerry Hempenstall, Dr Sarah McGeown, Dr Molly de Lemos, Professor Kathy Rastle, Dr Linda Siegel, Professor Pamela Snow, The Right Honourable Robert W. Sweet Jr and Professor Kevin Wheldall – and even Sir Jim Rose himself.
You can read the two official submissions that were received in support of the petition below:
Fortunately, I will not be alone in facing the committee next week. I am privileged and grateful that Gordon Askew MBE, Former Literacy and Phonics Adviser to the Department for Education for England, and Dr Sarah McGeown, Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology, Edinburgh University, have both kindly agreed to give evidence alongside me. They will be able to provide robust and credible testimonies and evidence with regards to research, policy and practice.
I should be feeling hopeful. I have some ‘big guns’ in my corner. I also have the weight of science and research behind me. Not only that, but the last report from the International Council of Advisors, recommended that the Scottish Government ‘Identify a systematic, sequenced and selective plan for literacy… including a research-based approach…’
But I am not confident. I am afraid that yet again concerns will be swept under the carpet. When it comes to being research-informed in Scotland, where reading instruction is concerned, it’s just a meaningless mantra. We are stuck in a time-warp of useless, out-dated strategies and mixed methods with sight words, repetitive and predictable reading books, miscue analysis, running records, Reading Recovery, and multi-cueing word-guessing. Most teachers are unaware of current international research or what is considered best practice – indeed most (through no fault of their own) would be unable to explain or describe the features of teaching reading and spelling with systematic synthetic phonics.
Most of all I suppose I feel disillusioned. The lack of support or even professional curiosity (and sometimes courtesy) over the last three years has been absolutely galling. At a time when our literacy standards are in serious and consistent decline, you would think there would be an enthusiastic response when the possibility of a more effective way, a proven way – to raise standards in reading is presented. Instead, there appears to be complacency, arrogance and ignorance – a ‘this isn’t anything to do with me’ approach.
To be clear, if you work in education in any capacity as a teacher, a journalist, an academic, a researcher, a headteacher, an educational psychologist, an attainment adviser, an authority director, a teacher educator or lecturer, or a government official, or if your remit outlines that you are responsible in any way for learning, education, or reading, or if you are a parent of school-aged children, then this petition concerns you.
This petition is about addressing inequality, closing the gap and social justice; all children in Scotland have a right to be taught how to read, write and spell, using the most effective methods, to enable them to fulfil their potential at school and beyond. If you are in a position of power or influence, you have a duty to be informed (and inform others) of what the research on reading says and its implications for your particular context. There is no room for wilful ignorance, deliberately withholding information, or personal agendas – it’s too important for that.
I am preparing for battle, but I can’t help feeling we’ve already lost. The research has been out there for a long time (we are 12 years behind England on this) and so have our results – but we remain disinterested. It shouldn’t take a petition to call people to account or persuade them to take action. The fact that Scotland continues to ignore international research that could support teachers, and improve the education and lives of its children, is nothing short of shameful – it’s a scandal.
Wish me luck.
N.B: I am especially grateful to everyone who has supported me in this endeavour over the last three years: friends, colleagues, family, schools, teachers, Twitter chums – all your messages, tweets, likes, favourites and encouragement have kept me going. Thank you. 😀