Is imposing Synthetic phonics “almost abuse”

According to Andrew Davis, research fellow at Durham University, insisting that children who can already read when they start school must learn synthetic phonics is “almost a form of abuse”.  There are several reports about his publication To read or not to read, this morning all over the media, for example:

The BBC,
Times Educational Supplement:

This may be missing a fundamental point that is backed up by Neuroscience:

  • for reading, phonics are needed for new words, whilst children need to progress to mental images of words once they have seen a word 2-3 times, for fluent reading. However the skill of holding mental images of words is completely neglected in teaching children to read.
  • for spelling, mental imagery is even more important because the English language has many irregularities and homophones (words like “ate” and “eight” or “where” and “wear” that sound the same and have different spellings) to confuse our children. Mental imagery accelerates learning and helps children to develop the necessary skills to overcome many of their challenges.

Observing best practice amongst skills and confident learners, it is clear that the ability to generate mental images and control their location, motion, size, brightness, etc are essential skills.  100% of those who are diagnosed with Dyslexia are not using mental imagery for words or numbers and many can’t keep even a single letter still.

The National Curriculum calls for multi-sensory teaching and learning. Being in control of your mental imagery is the fundamental basis for visual learning. Teachers however are not being taught how to help a child hone their mental imagery skills for literacy, numeracy and concentration.    This is particularly vital amongst children aged 4-7 years to minimise stress and to ensure that they do not lose confidence and self-esteem”.

This is not just another spelling or reading strategy, it enables teachers and families to understand more about how we learn. Mental imagery has been used in sport for many years to model excellence and every day we see dramatic results in working with children, particularly those with Dyslexia. Developing the use of mental imagery as a technique in schools offers an effective starting point for all aspects of literacy teaching. 

If you want to understand more about this do contact me, Olive Hickmott, details below and the blog at

–  Ends  –

Notes to Editors:

For more information, or to speak directly to Olive Hickmott, please contact her on one of the following: Olive Hickmott  Tel: 07970-854388  or email

About Olive Hickmott

Olive herself showed signs of Dyslexia and ADHD when growing up. She is a NLP Master Practitioner and Certified Coach. She is the architect for the New Perspectives series of personal development books for Health, Wellness and Learning Difficulties. Her book, Bridges to Success – How to Transform Learning Difficulties, takes a major step forward in offering simple skills to anyone with other learning difficulties such as ADD, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Tourette’s, Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.

About Empowering Learning

Olive has trained over 100s of Practitioners throughout UK, the Republic of Ireland, the Netherlands, Brazil, Cyprus, Switzerland, Belgium, Singapore, USA and Africa. They work together to enable people to know about how these simple skills can affect them and their families. Together they have worked with 1000s of adults, children and schools. Our Practitioner in Ireland achieved a 1st class Masters in Adult Learning and Development, based on this work and is currently running a pilot project with three primary schools. This project is already showing great results with many students now achieving higher marks for spelling and literacy than preciously possible.

About olivehickmott

I am a Forensic Learning coach, showing people how they can improve their own learning and change their health. Working with creative neurodivergent students is a joy, as they learn new skills to overcome many of their learning challenges.
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