It has been a renewed discussion, again, in both the UK and Australia, but as this new working paper I found via Best Evidence in Brief shows: Phonics beats whole language approaches again and again:
A working paper from the UK’s Centre for Economic Performance considers the impact of the introduction of synthetic phonics in English schools.
In the wake of a major report in 2006 (the Rose review), 172 schools in 18 local authorities (districts) introduced training in synthetic phonics as part of a pilot program. The following year, a further 32 local authorities joined a similar scheme. Another 50 local authorities joined 18 months later, and the final 50 a year after that. For each scheme, the model was very similar – a literacy consultant would provide coaching support for at least ten schools in their area. The consultant worked mainly in the Reception year (age 4-5) and Year 1 (age 6-7), but also in Year 2 and nursery.
In this new working paper, using data from the UK’s National Pupil Database, researchers have been able to assess the impact of this phased introduction. It shows a substantial leap (an effect size of more than +0.2) in children’s “communication, language and literacy” scores at age 5 when the training is introduced. This effect is maintained even after the initial year of training.
The researchers were also able to follow cohorts as they progressed through primary school to see if any initial effects lasted until age 11 (phonics teaching stopped at age 7). There were no average effects at this age for reading, a broader measure of English attainment, or math. However, there was a persistent effect (an effect size of more than 0.1) for those classified as non-native English speakers and economically disadvantaged (as measured by free school meal status).