Government Guidelines for Teaching Systematic Synthetic Phonics

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International Research into Methods of Teaching Reading

Because of generally poor levels of literacy among school students despite many years at school, governments of all the major English-speaking countries (including USA, UK, Canada and Australia) have recently conducted major studies into the best ways of teaching basic reading skills.


The best way to teach basic reading skills is to teach the spelling rules for each of the 44 sounds in English – this is called Phonics.

For example, using the Synthetic Phonics Method students would be taught to work out the sounds in the word ‘third’ by breaking it up into three groups of letters:

  • The group of letters ‘th’ which has the /th/ sound as in ‘three’.
  • The group of letters ‘ir’ which has the /er/ sound as in ‘germ’ and ‘girl’.
  • The letter ‘d’ which has the /d/ sound as in ‘dog’.

If you would like to go into more detail, the Australian Government Report from 2005 called ‘Teaching Reading’ is well written and relatively easy to understand if you refer to the glossary which will give you the meanings of the technical words. It also has references to many of the reports from other countries.

Not All Phonics Instruction is the Same

Not only do all the reports recommend the teaching of Phonics, more specifically they recommended teaching a particular type of Phonics called Synthetic Phonics (see the example above). Evidence shows the other four or five ways of teaching Phonics are not nearly as effective as Synthetic Phonics.

In 2011, the UK Government Education Department added another criteria – systematic. In other words, teachers need to follow a system so that all the letter-sound rules are taught. They have set out their criteria for assuring high-quality phonic work in detail here.

In summary the UK Government recommends:

  • Synthetic Phonics should be the prime approach to decoding print.
  • Children should be taught a formal program of Phonics from the age of 5.
  • The Phonics program should be broken into discrete daily sessions, progressing from simple to more complex rules as time goes on.
  • Enable children’s progress to be assessed.
  • Use a multi-sensory approach integrating visual, auditory and kinaesthetic activities.
  • Teach blending of sounds right through the word from left to right.
  • Teach spelling by teaching sound-to-letter rules.
  • Ensure that Phonics is the first approach a child uses when reading a word.
  • Ensure children are taught how to read irregular words.
  • Give children the opportunity to read texts at their level of understanding of Phonic rules – in other words – give them the opportunity to read graded readers.

The High Performance Learning Approach to Phonics

High Performance Learning has been teaching Systematic Synthetic Phonics for more than 35 years, long before it was fashionable in schools anywhere in the world. I wrote the first version of the Phonics Program in 1975 and have been using it successfully ever since.

The version we use today includes interactive multimedia text that is colour-coded for the rules of English, and readers can click on individual letters in words to hear the sounds they represent (click on the picture opposite to sample some of the multi-media materials). Our Phonics Program satisfies ALL the guidelines just put out by the UK government, and more. Read more here: Learning Basic Reading Skills Using Phonics.

You can get a taste of our interactive multimedia materials by clicking here.

To find out how you can access our Systematic Synthetic Phonics Program contact us by email here or phone us on (08) 8370 0110.

Chris Brooks
High Performance Learning

I welcome your comments. You can add them below.

4 thoughts on “Government Guidelines for Teaching Systematic Synthetic Phonics

  1. How fascinating that you can’t even spell catalogue and the ‘I’ seems to refer to someone in Australia! I speak as a grandmother whose grandson seems to have been totally spooked by synthetic phonics. Has no one realised that what works for one child might not work for another?

    Louise Lewis

    • Hi Louise,

      Catalog is an acceptable spelling for catalogue.


      People can’t be spooked by synthetic phonics – only by the WAY it is being taught.

      Unfortunately most teachers who are now required to teach phonics did not learn it themselves when they went to school, and if they received training in phonics at university it is very likely that they had to write essays ABOUT phonics without actually being taught the nuts and bolts – the 200 rules that relate the sounds to the letters for spelling, and the letters to the sounds for reading.

      Furthermore, most so-called phonics programs do not actually teach the synthetic part of the process directly so many children do not master that and so fall back into remembering and/or guessing words in an attempt to read fluently. This is very inefficient and stressful. This may have been what has happened to your grandson.

      Fortunately this can all be fixed. If you would like to discuss your grandson’s situation with the aim of fixing his problem you are welcome to book in for a free 15 minute consultation with me so we can discuss his situation in more detail so I can explain how we would go about showing him how to overcome his reading and spelling problems.


      Chris Brooks

    • Knowledge and discussion about the different types of phonics is very limited everywhere so I am not surprised you haven’t heard much about it in Canada.

      It is such a shame because there are a number of different ways phonics can be taught and they are not all equally effective. In fact some forms of phonics teaching cause a lot of confusion for many children.

      If you have a choice, always make sure you are getting synthetic phonics training for your children – and don’t just rely on the advertising blurbs for the product as some of these are misleading.

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