Union anger over test

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NEARLY four out of 10 pupils failed the controversial new national phonics reading test in Wigan, official statistics show.

The test checks six-year-olds’ ability to read aloud a mixture of 40 real and made-up words, sounding them out using the phonics system. However, in Wigan borough, only 62 per cent of the 3,602 pupils who took the new test met the required standard.

While the figures may seem concerning, Wigan was four per cent above the national average of 58 per cent – which was also the North West average. The phonics test is now taken by all pupils in year one in English primary schools. The Government introduced it to ensure schools were identifying pupils struggling with reading.

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.

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 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, as our joint survey with the NAHT and NUT showed. 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 saying 43 per cent of schools were able to identify pupils with reading problems of which they had been unaware.

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. She said: “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.”