Experts demand end to phonics test plans

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A group of early years experts, including academics and practitioners, have launched a petition calling on the Government to abandon plans to introduce a phonics-based reading test for all six-year-olds.

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TACTYC, the association for the professional development of early years educators, argues that introducing phonics teaching in nursery and reception and the phonics test in Year 1 is highly inappropriate and is not supported by research or evidence from teachers.

In their response to the Department for Education's consultation on the Year 1 phonics test screening, they say, 'Assessment against set targets drives provision: a simplistic focus on phonics will inevitably distort children's learning and limit the breadth of their experience.'

They add, 'Training children of five or six to decode text without regard to their understanding can result in losing confidence in themselves as readers. It is essential to include comprehension and reading for meaning and enjoyment into the mix from the start.'

Consultation questions include whether ten seconds is long enough for a child to decode a word, whether the test should take place in mid-June, and whether the screening check should contain 'a mixture of words and non-words'.

TACTYC says that this would cause undue anxiety for parents and particularly disadvantage boys, who are often misdiagnosed with special educational needs.

Janet Moyles, early years consultant and former chair of TACTYC, said, 'We're against a reading test at six because it's  so inappropriate for young children. Most children at that age are not ready to learn phonics, never mind be tested on them. It depends on children's previous language experiences, how much they understand the structure of language.'

For example, she said, children are much more likely to be able to read the word 'dinosaur' than 'the', because dinosaur, although more complex in terms of phonics, is an exciting and easily visualised word.

'We know from a huge amount of research that it is totally inappropriate at this age, but the Government seems not prepared to listen to prior and impressive research. Children do not have formal teaching of reading in Scandinavian countries, for example, until they are six to seven years of age and do much better than our children in formal testing later.'

Professor Moyles criticised the consultation because, by asking what form the test should take, the questions assume that respondents want the test, rather than asking if such a test should be introduced. She said it was unclear how the Government intended the reading test to be carried out, and there had been some suggestion that nonsense words would be used to test phonics. She warned that 'a meaningless phonics test' would also turn children off reading.

'Children love stories. We're not against phonics per se, but phonics is not the only way children learn to read. A phonics test is likely to mean that children don't have meaning in their literacy activities.'

FURTHER INFORMATION

To sign the petition go to www.tactyc.org.uk and 'In our view'.

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