New reading test for six-year-olds

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All children will be given a phonics-based progress check in Year 1 so teachers can identify those not at the expected level in reading and in need of extra support, Education Secretary Michael Gove has announced.

Mr Gove said too many primary school children were failing to reach the expected standard and that the short, light-touch test would be designed to assess how well Year 1 pupils could read simple, decodable words. He added that the screening check would be based on systematic synthetic phonics as it was internationally proven to drive up basic reading skills from a young age.

Mr Gove said: "A solid foundation in reading is crucial to a child’s success as they progress through primary school, into secondary school and then in later life.

"But, in spite of the hard work of teachers and pupils, too many children are currently not reaching the expected reading levels at age seven and age 11.

"We are determined to raise literacy standards in our schools, especially of those not achieving the expected level – a light-touch phonics-based check will provide reassurance that children in Year 1 have learned this important skill, will enable us to pinpoint those who are struggling at an early age and will give them the help they need before it is too late.
"It will be impossible to drill for and will be a true gauge of a child’s reading skills."

The government wants all children to learn to read using synthetic phonics. Pupils in England will take the tests in Year 1 from 2012 and a pilot scheme will start next summer. There will also be a progress check to help identify children needing extra support.

Most schools use the scheme already, but often alongside other methods. The government wants it to be used systematically - with children building up their phonic knowledge stage-by-stage.

The latest results of tests taken by six and seven-year-olds showed:

  • Just under 85% reached the expected level (Level 2) in reading, while almost 81% achieved this in writing.
  • Fewer boys make the grade: 80.9% did so in reading this year and 75.5% in writing.
  • Among children on free school meals nearly 72% reached Level 2 in reading and 64% did so in writing.
  • At age 11, one fifth of children fail to reach the level expected in English (Level 4) - although achievement in reading is better than in writing.