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Phonics screening trial gets underway

News | Published in TES Newspaper on 17 June, 2011 | By: Helen Ward

About 10,000 five and six-year-olds took the phonics screening check this week, amid mounting criticisms of the policy.

Pupils taking the test must read aloud a list of 20 words and 20 "non-words" to a teacher. The "non-words" ensure that children are decoding and not repeating words they have learnt already.

Steve Iredale, vice-president of heads' union the NAHT, observed a test being carried out in Loughborough.

"For internal purposes what I have seen could be very useful, but many schools will already have excellent tracking systems in place," he said. "What creates difficulties is that whatever is done by pupils goes to the Department for Education and becomes another stick to beat people with.

"Why not just let schools use it as an option?"

The test is due to be rolled out nationally next year - the cost of the policy has not been released although the trial is costing £250,000.

It is expected to take about five to ten minutes per pupil and the results for each pupil will be given to parents. The school's results will be recorded on RaiseOnline and available to Ofsted for use in inspections but will not be published in performance tables. National and local authority results will be reported.

Guidance on the tests says that the policy is aimed at encouraging schools to pursue a rigorous phonics programme but that this does not mean schools should delay teaching pupils wider literacy and comprehension skills.

One head who took part in the pre-trial tests said at the time that her teachers found it a "simple but helpful assessment".

Meanwhile, more than 1,200 people have signed a petition against the check launched by early-years organisation TACTYC.

Emeritus professor Janet Moyles, who begun the petition, said: "Early years teachers are very keen to do what they are asked to do.

"If they feel under pressure and Ofsted gets involved in it, then the conscientiousness of early years practitioners mean they will try and make sure children will do well in the tests and I think that will skew the pedagogy and the curriculum. I don't see how it can't."

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Comment (4)

  • The UK lobby group, Reading Reform foundation is in favour of the phonics screen described above.
    They seem to be mostly teachers and tutors so why does not TES seek their comment as well as the emeritus professor's?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    17 June, 2011


  • Surely the vast amounts of money this test will consume would be better directed to Initial Teacher Training and the CPD of existing teachers.

    We don't need another test, as we are still dealing with disengaged learners who have been in schools where the sole aim is to prepare them for KS2 SATS.

    Very few of the people who are against the Phonics Test are against phonics, we know that it is a key part of the learning process involved in reading, but it should not be the only promoted element, as it is just now with the Government's matched funding (a whole other issue).

    We need to get to a stage where the Government lets the teaching profession make the decisions about learning, whilst also providing evidence to show that we are accountable.

    It wasn't that long ago that the White Paper of 2010 stated:

    that ‘teachers not bureaucrats or Ministers know best how to teach’ (para 4.8).

    This whole test and the way we have arrived at it, is completely against these words.

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    17 June, 2011


  • Is it, relatively speaking, vast amounts of money involved? Teacher time seems to be minor. I don't know how the data are collected but imagine it to be relativlely simpe and not time-consuming to enter the results online.(I do hoe teachers are compensated for the time nonetheless)

    There must be many schools which do not track children's decoding skills, because they do not believe early instruction in decoding to be important. (I feel that some of the posters on this message board might think like that)
    Maybe the decoding screen will enlighten them.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    19 June, 2011


  • The test only informs you if the child has passed or failed. It offers very little in the way of formative assessment. It does not tell you which phase the child is secure at and basically makes the slightly less able readers feel useless! Some of my children have been bored by 30 words! - even my better readers. I already have in place a phonics assessment I do every term that informs me what phase the children are working at and what they need to do next - why do I need this test? And by the way 27 children at over 10 mins each - by time I have fetched the next child, explained the task etc it soon adds up. I am only doing this test in the mornings - its not fair on year 1 to be testing in the afternoon as they are tired. It is Wednesday morning I am yet to make it into my class in a morning this week! All for something I feel tells me very little!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    20 June, 2012

    Merida m

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