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The Rose Review: good or bad news for reading standards?

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Chris Jolly, Publisher of Jolly Phonics, has some strong reservations about the Rose Review and its potential impact on reading standards. Find out more in his letter to Literacy Time PLUS.


This week, Sir Jim Rose wrote to the Schools Secretary Ed Balls to update him on the progress made in children’s early reading over the last three years. The key to children’s reading success, he suggested, was in the quality of teaching, and progress made in the teaching of reading in the pre-school sector has not always been sustained in the infant classroom.

Sir Jim believes that the six broad areas of learning being proposing in his Primary Review, to replace individual subjects, will give teachers more flexibility, relieve the pressure of an ‘overloaded’ curriculum, and enable infant teachers to focus more closely on raising standards in reading.

Sir Jim’s comments, and many of his suggestions for a Primary Review, do not all sit well with Chris Jolly, Publisher of the leading UK synthetic phonics programme, Jolly Phonics. Chris sent Literacy Time PLUS the following response.

Good news and bad news

The proposals for a new primary curriculum by the independent primary review focus on ‘raising standards’. This is good news. Standards in literacy certainly need to rise and the emphasis on reducing the heavy prescription of recent years is welcome. But this is where the good news ends.

Other proposals are much more worrying – for instance, the emphasis on cross-curricular teaching is potentially very damaging to achievement in schools. To say that it is not the same as ‘topic’ and ‘project’ work is to play with words. Teachers today see it as much the same thing and there is no broad evidence of their support for it.

The method was highly discredited in the past and was one of the reasons for the introduction of the Literacy Hour in 1998, to bring focus to the teaching of literacy.

Personalised learning

The review also encourages the implementation of ‘personalised learning’ which is at variance with the evidence in favour of whole class teaching.

This is another recommendation which does not have a clear link with raising standards. It might be more effective to have smaller class sizes.

The major problem with the review, however, is its failure to tackle the schism between Reception and Year 1. Reception teaching is still heavily prescribed by Government with the emphasis on play-based learning as opposed to the ‘more structured approach’ of Year 1.

The review does mention that the shift from Reception to Year 1 is ‘too abrupt’, but it does not account for why this is. The recent change to a play-based Reception, through the Early Years Foundation Stage Curriculum, does not appear to have had any public consultation, nor to have been widely communicated.

This suggests that the policy is known to be controversial and unlikely to have the support of parents. Indeed the evidence is that play-based schooling lowers the standard of achievement. It is a policy which runs counter to the wishes of parents who want to see their child learn, and not to be held back.

Structured teaching

The evidence in favour of structured teaching in the early years is very strong. To give just one example, children in Clackmannanshire in Scotland, formally taught synthetic phonics in the equivalent of the Reception year, were 3 years 6 months ahead of those who had not had such teaching when the groups were tested seven years later.

Time and again studies show that an intervention with formal teaching early on leads to advantage that can be traced over the years.

Do you agree with Chris Jolly? Why not give us your comments in our forum, Teacher Talk.

If this review is meant to be placed in the context of a play-based Reception Year, then this should be made explicitly clear. It is essential that parents, particularly those of younger children, are made aware of the fact that such a policy may lead to children in private schools starting their formal education a year or more before those in state education. The result could increase yet further the gap in achievement between the two groups and, far from raising standards, could have the opposite effect.


  1. SmileyPR
    on 5 August 2010


    I disagree with Mr Jolly’s about starting formal teaching earlier in the EY. I agree that phonics need to be given a special short time in the day, but this one should help the children understand that they can use this knowledge throughout the day via they play activities, like we use it in our daily activities. I had a student last year who came from a school which pushed all the 42 phonemes in the 1st term of his R year and the boy did not have that much joy about school, which was affecting his behaviour. He transferred in April to our school and the change was enormous. His behaviour changed and he truly showed his literacy skills level, improving consciously through play activities that were topic related.

    It is well known that other countries have achieved higher results even when they only started teaching formal phonics/literacy at the age of 7. There are many other aspects to take in consideration, e.g. teacher-student ratio… particularly in Reception.

    2out of 5