Pseudo words creating genuine distress

A new survey shows that the controversial phonics check, a test for five and six year olds is is making children cry and confusing good young readers.

The survey from researchers at Newman University, Birmingham, and Leeds Beckett University is based on interviews from teachers and head teachers and it shows that the test is having a detrimental impact on young students.

Teachers wrote on the questionnaires that: “Children who are competent readers are becoming anxious and tearful over pseudo words,” and “Children are stressed. Some cry. It also results in an overuse of phonics when reading.”

Teachers and heads were particularly concerned about the inclusion of pseudo words: words such as "reb", "wup" and "meft", which are included to ensure that pupils are using phonic knowledge rather than memorisation to read.
One teacher noted, “I think that they [the pseudo words] just trip up the good readers who have to be coached into reading them as alien words and not to try and make sense of them as they would normally when they come across a word that they do not immediately recognise.”
Most teachers felt that overall the test affects their classroom in a negative way: “Because we have to concentrate so much on 'phonics', reading for meaning, language development, vocabulary all suffer.” and “Year 1s now just do lots of pseudo words and test preparation, instead of using that time to improve their writing or other useful skills.”
However, some teachers did focus on the positive side: one said, “I actually understand the evidence and science of how children learn to read and have adjusted my teaching accordingly.” and another pointed out that “Our teaching of phonics is more directed to ‘plug the gaps’ of the sounds individual children don’t know. This makes our planning more personalised which can only be a positive thing.”
The report concludes that the government should seriously consider discontinuing the phonics check or making it voluntary, and if it is continued, that children who fail should not be required to resit in Year 2. It also recommends that the inclusion of pseudo words should be rethought.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want to make sure as many children as possible are reading well, and research shows that phonics is the most effective foundation for this.