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Synthetic Phonics - Castlewhelan School and teachers inspirational

27 June, 2005

Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Michael Ferguson met with Teachers from St Malachy's Primary School in Castlewhelan on Friday morning to discuss the impact of a different Reading Formula.

Michael had written to the previous Education Minister Barry Gardiner asking him to introduce the 'Synthetic Phonics' Reading Formula given the results of pilot schemes in Scotland where children in 19 Schools in Glackmananshire were completing Key Stage 2 three years above the chronological reading age.

The Reading Program has been monitored and evaluated by St Andrews and Hull Universities and is under review by Ruth Kelly Education Secretary for England.

The visit to the school according to Michael Ferguson was an inspiration. Synthetic Phonics Teacher, Anne McKeefry has been teaching since 1973 in both Primary and Secondary Schools and spent eight years in Reading Support. For the last 13 years Anne has taught P1 & 2 and is co-ordinator of Foundation/Key Stage 1 in St Malachy's Primary School Castlewhelan.Under the direction of Anne and with the support of the School Principal the school has introduced Synthetic or 'Jolly Phonics'.

Independent research consistently show that children following this program will be on average 12 months ahead in reading and 14 months ahead in spelling by the end of Primary 1 and nearly 100% will achieve Level 2 or above by the end of Key Stage 1. Indeed a number of children in Anne's class reached Stage 2 in less than 2 years.

The Program involves the learning of 42 sounds over 9 weeks instead of 3-4 years, which would be the norm. As a result of this new technique some children are able to read and spell more than 30 words in less than two weeks and by the end of Primary 1 most children recognise more than 1.000 words. June tests have shown all (accept two that were statemented) children reading and spelling above their chronological age (6months - 30months).

Commenting upon the School visit Michael Ferguson said,

"St Malachy's Principle and Anne Mc Keefry are demonstrating that we can effectively address the scandalous level of illiteracy by starting early and employing this tested reading and learning formula.

"It is clear that Synthetic Phonics works and common sense should dictate that we include this program in all early years learning programs and ensure that it complements the current enrichment curriculum.

"This school management team has demonstrated excellent professional judgement in the interests of the children in their care, none of whom will transfer with a reading and spelling problem.

"I had recommended the introduction of the Synthetic Phonics Program of reading to the previous Minister given its successes in Scotland and I have now asked Minister Angela Smith to support the program in St Malachy's and implement a pupil profiling and pupil tracking exercise so that we can mainstream the good practice as best practice.

"I have also contacted the Auditor General‚s Office who have been examining the public investment in Literacy in light of the high number of school leavers unable to read.

"At present 1 in 5 adults are unable to read this program can make the difference and this school and management team will have my support for their endeavours." ENDS

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