Teachers call for end to 'pointless' reading check for six-year-olds

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More than eight in ten Year 1 teachers in primary schools believe that the phonics check for six-year-olds should be scrapped, according to a survey by teaching unions.

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The Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers questioned 1,700 Year one teachers as part of a wider survey of teachers and heads in primary schools in England.

Eighty-six per cent of teachers said the phonics checks should not continue and 91 per cent said that the reading check did not tell them anything new about children’s reading ability.

Around two-thirds of Year 1 teachers (63 per cent) said they feared that children’s confidence would be dented if they had to retake the phonics check.

They also said that it took up teaching time, took teachers out of the classroom and cost schools money to implement.

Many teachers said that children were confused by made-up words, such as ‘strom’ because they were so similar to real words (storm) and the children thought that they were misprints.

Nearly nine in ten teachers practised reading made-up words with their class before the reading check.

More than four in ten teachers said that they had felt under extra pressure to teach synthetic phonics the week before the reading checks, in place of other literary activities.

Teachers of primary school children of all ages stressed the importance of using a wide range of strategies to teach children to read  - not just synthetic phonics - because children learn in different ways.

They also said that reading without any context was problematic for children, with many children with English as a second language struggling. Yet these children tend to do well in Year 2 SATs, which measure comprehension.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, said, ‘Phonics tests waste time and money to tell teachers what they already know. We fear the harm they will do to fluent readers who fail the tests because they assume the nonsense words are misprints, and to children with special educational needs and English as an additional language who get confused by them.  The Government risks doing long-term damage to children’s reading if it persists with the checks and its mistaken determination to make synthetic phonics the only method used to teach children to read.’

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said, ‘Synthetic phonics is an essential contribution to helping most children learn to read, which is why most schools already make heavy use of it. This test, however, is another matter. It is inaccurate and unnecessary. It distorts the teaching and measurement of reading. A lifelong love of reading, as well as fluency, is built on more than decoding. It is built on the pleasure of a great story, something that ideology is now crowding out of the early curriculum.’

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT said, ‘The phonics check must be scrapped. The results of this survey provide stark evidence that schools are being made to squander money on what they know to be an unreliable "progress report". The strength of feeling against this unnecessary test is extremely high and the gains for children low. Five is too young to fail.’

 

WHAT YEAR 1 TEACHERS SAID ABOUT THE PHONICS READING CHECK    

It didn't tell me anything I didn't already know, meant that I wasn't teaching my class and stressed the children out because they had to sit the test and also work with a cover teacher rather than me.

 

The only thing I learnt was that for a lot of children making sense of the words was really important, so they hated and did badly with the nonsense words.  

Some able readers failed and some non-fluent, less able readers passed!  What does that prove? It proves synthetic phonics is only part of a variety of strategies used in learning to read.  Teaching phonics alone will not make fluent readers who enjoy the experience.

 

Initially I was not too concerned. However, I found them time consuming and frustrating. The process has not given us any useful additional information and has taken teachers away from the classroom for hours.  

I was willing to try it to see if it helped the children and if it helped inform my planning and assessment. It was a waste of time and money. [Had to have a] supply teacher to cover me and had a negative effect on several of the children in my class.  

I did not think the check was particularly negative until I carried it out. I had over 50 per cent of my class fail the check and, given some of the children are reading above the level they should be in Year 2, to have to report to their parents that they have not met the standard in decoding seems ridiculous. Many children made mistakes trying to turn pseudo words into real words - 'strom' became 'storm'. The lack of context meant many children made mistakes they would not have made if the word was in a sentence - read 'shine' as 'shin'.

 

I thought it may have some merit initially.  I now believe it to be divisive and inherently flawed.  It will not contribute any new information we do not already record.  Our children are all EAL and have performed badly in this limited assessment tool.  They always perform well in year two SATs where comprehension is also measured.'

Fluent readers did not pass. Most children struggled with the non-words.

 

[The checks] disrupted a whole week of teaching. We also implemented a practice week earlier in term to prepare children as you would with SATs.

 

My more able students don't rely on synthetic phonics anymore as they use a range of strategies to decode texts, but we had to ‘train’ them so they could do well on the test and it put them backwards, not helped them.

 

Source: Teaching unions’ survey

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