Phonics reading check failed by four out of 10 pupils


Only 58% of pupils passed the controversial new national phonics reading test in England, according to the Year 1 phonics reading check and Key Stage 1 results.

The results for the phonics reading check show that 58 per cent of six-year-olds reached the expected standard (32 out of 40). Thanks to the check, teachers have identified over 235,000 pupils who will now receive additional reading support from the school.
The check is a short, light-touch assessment of the phonic skills of pupils at the end of Year 1. It assesses their ability break down and blend words using systematic synthetic phonics, the internationally proven method of driving up reading standards, especially in children aged five to seven.

Ministers said the check had identified pupils who needed further help in learning to read.

But teaching unions say it risks doing long-term damage to children's reading because it tests children's ability to decode words using a single method, phonics, rather than their ability to read itself.

Some teachers have said bright pupils who use different methods of reading are trying to read the made-up words as real ones and being marked down for it.

The official results show some 62% of girls passed the test compared with 54% of boys.

But only 44% of disadvantaged pupils, those eligible for free school meals, met the required standard of phonic decoding. This was 17 percentage points lower than all other pupils.

The phonics test is now taken by all pupils in Year 1 in English primary schools. The government introduced it to ensure schools were identifying pupils struggling with reading.

Mary Bousted, head of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "Phonics tests waste time and money telling teachers what they already know about children's reading ability.

"If the government persists with phonics checks and its mistaken determination to make synthetic phonics the only method used to teach children to read, it risks doing long-term damage to children's reading."

But the Department for Education (DfE) highlights evidence from an independent evaluation, which found that:

  • 43 per cent of pilot schools were able to identify pupils with reading problems of which they were not already aware.
  • 83 per cent of teachers said the number of words was suitable; 80 per cent said the type of vocabulary was suitable; and 74 per cent thought the non-words used were suitable.
  • The experience of the check was positive for most pupils.
  • The check took on average between four and nine minutes to complete per pupil.

Education and Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss said: "The reading check helps teachers identify those pupils who need extra help in learning to read.

"Many thousands of children will now receive the extra support they need to develop a love of reading."

But NUT head, Christine Blower, said the results reinforced the union's view that the top-down imposition of phonics across the board was the wrong approach.

"Children have different learning styles and develop at different ages and stages, a fact that the phonics check does not recognise.

"Decoding using synthetic phonics can be a useful tool for teachers, but it is nonsense for it to be the basis of a blanket test.

"Teachers need to be trusted and supported to develop a range of strategies for the teaching of reading. The aim is that all children learn to read for pleasure. A mechanistic approach will not guarantee that."