SOR October Update: Phonics Fail in UK, Documentary Fail in US

Phonics Fail in UK

Since 2006, England has been implementing mandatory systematic phonics for all students—a policy approach very similar to the “science of reading” (SOR) movement in the U.S.

Recent research on that policy called for balance and found the focus on intensive phonics has not produced promised results.

Now, a study released in October 2022—Testing the impact of a systematic and rigorous phonics programme on early readers and also those that have fallen behind at the end of Key Stage 2—offers two important conclusions that are highly relevant to being skeptical about the SOR movement and related reading policy in the U.S.:

  • Reading programs are not one-size-fits-all solutions to challenges related to reading achievement.
  • Intensive phonics instruction for beginning readers can raise phonics assessment scores in the short run, but greater care should be taken to not call phonics tests “reading improvement” and (once again) those early increases disappear as young readers develop (see the reading science on phonics in the policy brief linked below).

Here is the key chart:

Documentary Fail in US

A documentary on the “science of reading” movement is imminent, The Truth about Reading.

I was deeply skeptical when I first heard about the documentary (see Nancy Bailey’s concerns HERE).

However, I agreed in good faith to be interviewed this past summer, but now that I have seen the promotional trailer, I feel as if my initial skepticism was warranted.

The trailer is melodramatic (think Corridor of Shame, a documentary with good intentions but deeply problematic delivery), and continues to forefront journalists while misrepresenting teacher practice and reading science.

In short, beware.


Thomas, P.L. (2022). The Science of Reading movement: The never-ending debate and the need for a different approach to reading instruction. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center.

A Critical Examination of Grade Retention as Reading Policy (white paper)