Debbie Hepplewhite is an experienced and
practising primary teacher in the UK. She is also an independent synthetic phonics teacher-trainer and
provides training overseas and via online conferencing.
Debbie provides a consultancy service and
clients have included publishers, manufacturers, journalists, television companies, advisors and politicians. For
many years she has offered a free online advisory service for members of the public and the teaching profession and
through this has made contacts and friends around the world. She is a controversial figure and has
written many challenging articles for educational publications and has a reputation for being a rousing and
inspirational speaker at educational conferences!
For many years Debbie has been involved in the
debate about the methods for teaching reading and spelling.
Having witnessed first hand the alarmingly
high rates of illiteracy in the UK (and reflected elsewhere around the English-speaking world), Debbie set out to
investigate the merits of different approaches to reading instruction including the two diametrically opposed
methods of teaching known as 'whole language' and 'synthetic phonics'.
Debbie's in-depth investigation confirmed her
suspicion arising from her own teaching experience that the method known as 'synthetic phonics' was by far
and away the most effective method of both teaching beginners and addressing the poor reading and spelling skills
of children and adults.
A decade ago, Debbie began lobbying her local
education authority, the press (local and national), her local member of parliament and central government in an
attempt to raise the profile of what was then seen as an 'underground' and dated method of teaching.
She met with either no response, no interest
or much resistance at all levels and became known as 'the phonics lady' by those who saw her as a threat
to the status quo.
It was becoming increasingly apparent to
Debbie that trying to engage people in the reading debate was almost impossible and that there was a vested
interest in the prevailing multi-cueing ‘searchlights reading strategies’ as promoted in the UK government’s
National Literacy Strategy. It was clear that 'synthetic phonics' with its underpinning ‘no
guessing words from multi-cueing strategies’ should not be allowed to interfere with the huge 'whole
language' movement established in the teacher-training universities even prior to the 1998 National Literacy
Strategy - and all of this at the tragic expense of the many thousands of children every year who leave school
illiterate or with very poor reading and spelling skills who have been subjected to ‘whole language’ or
‘mixed methods’ teaching.
Debbie made as many new friends as enemies
along the way and in 2000 was invited to take over the editorship of the UK Reading Reform Foundation (RRF) Newsletter.
The Reading Reform Foundation is a non-profit
making organisation whose purpose is to promote research-based principles of reading instruction and to work to
ensure that governmental departments become accountable for the effectiveness of the educational programmes they
promote. Soon afterwards, the RRF went 'online' with the launch of its website www.rrf.org.uk of which Debbie is the editor.
In 2004, Debbie founded www.syntheticphonics.com and branched more seriously into
training and consultancy work as well as 'keeping her finger on the pulse' of teaching, working as a teacher
(and headteacher) in some 'challenging' schools. She has achieved remarkable results using the synthetic phonics
method of teaching in schools where hitherto those results would not have been expected.
Debbie has advised the UK government and
also the political opposition parties and she continues to ‘challenge’ where this seems necessary.
In 2004/5, she was invited to give evidence to
the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee inquiry ‘Teaching Children to Read’ and the subsequent
independent national review of reading instruction leading to the ‘Rose Report’ (2006). Resulting from
these events, the UK government has accepted Jim Rose’s recommendations and brought out new guidance for reading
instruction in a publication entitled, ‘Letters and Sounds’ which is based on synthetic phonics
National investigations in America
(Report of the National Reading Panel, 2000 USA) and in Australia (National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy) have also supported the efficacy
of synthetic phonics teaching.
The rest, as the saying goes, should be
….but following the historic Rose Report, in the UK we still find frightening evidence of poor and
contradictory advice from government and local authority departments, subversion and protests by academics of
many teacher-training universities, outcry from popular authors and poets and others who fail to understand the
importance and effectiveness of the synthetic phonics teaching principles. Thousands of teachers and
teaching assistants desperately need immediate support and, ideally, training in synthetic phonics
This scenario has virtually compelled Debbie to design a highly
practical online synthetic phonics programme as this provides many people, including parents, with
immediate access to informative and supportive materials. The beauty of her Phonics International
programme is that it provides the systematic step-by-step detailed ‘stuff’ (the resources) which both teachers and
learners need to help them most effectively - all available at the ‘touch of a button’. This is in great contrast
to the UK government’s ‘Letters
and Sounds’ which provides guidance but no actual resources for the teaching and learning
Bringing all her collective experience and understanding of the
need to help people across the world to know and understand The English
Alphabetic Code and requisite skills commonly and quickly, Debbie
has designed the Phonics International programme.
She continues to develop the programme to further meet the needs of
people in all circumstances. In this endeavour, feedback of any description will always be very