In England, Higher Education institutions, together with the schools whose staff they train, are being required to incorporate synthetic phonics as one of the key approaches to the teaching of reading. Yet even if synthetic phonics can be identified as one of the component ‘skills’ of reading, an assumption vigorously contested in this paper, it does not follow that it can or should be taught explicitly and independently of reading for meaning. Imposing such a ‘method’ is, at a deep level, incompatible with teachers acting as teachers and potentially constitutes a kind of abuse of early readers. Moreover, because of the conceptual difficulties confronting any attempt to specify synthetic phonics as an approach, there cannot exist, in principle, empirical research that actually supports its value. Current policy in England since the Rose Report, at least, assumes the opposite. All this cannot be dismissed as a little local difficulty for England concerning the teaching of reading English with all its spelling irregularities: there are broader implications for the relationship between research and teaching, together with continuing tendencies to impose ‘teacher proof’ approaches on schools and their staff in many countries.