Autumn 2021 phonics check to go ahead

Gavin Williamson confirms that autumn phonics check for Year 2 pupils will be repeated next academic year

John Roberts

Covid and schools: Autumn 2021 phonics check confirmed by education secretary Gavin Williamson

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has confirmed plans for an "exceptional" Year 2 phonics screening check in the 2021-22 autumn term.

This is to help ensure that all young pupils grasp the basics of reading, as part of the full return of primary assessments in the next academic year, the minister said at the Festival of Education today.

After the pandemic forced the cancellation of assessments last summer, schools were told to hold a past version of the phonics check in the autumn term for incoming Year 2 children who had missed the June test. In a normal year, pupils would sit the check at the end of Year 1.

Background: DfE won't rule out another autumn phonics check

2020: Outrage as teachers' pleas to scrap phonics test ignored

Phonics: Most teachers oppose 'pointless' autumn phonics check

Mr Williamson said: "Just as for older pupils we continue to plan for a full programme of primary assessments in the 2021-2022 academic year, including the introduction of statutory Reception baseline assessment and the multiplication tables checks and we'll confirm details in due course.

Phonics screening checks in the autumn

"Like last year we'll be running phonics screening checks in the autumn so that any pupils who need support with phonics are spotted early."

Tes revealed earlier this year that the government had refused to rule out running another phonics check this autumn after the test planned for the summer was cancelled amid the escalating Covid crisis. 

Campaign group More than a Score has criticised the announcement.

A spokesperson said: "This is a bitterly disappointing decision for parents, teachers and – most of all – primary pupils, especially coming in the wake of mounting opposition from all sides to the current assessment system.

"The government has missed a golden opportunity to put children’s wellbeing and mental health – the very basis of effective learning – at the centre of their recovery programme.

"Instead, under these plans, from September primary school children will face high-pressure, high-stakes assessments in five out of seven school years, with all the associated stress and anxiety they will bring.

"Statutory assessments are the wrong way to assess where 'catch-up' is required. They will be neither accurate — giving only a snapshot of learning taken under stressful conditions — nor timely – they are by definition a retrospective accountability measure and therefore of no use to support children’s learning. 

"In particular, this move shows zero empathy for six- and seven-year-old Year 2 pupils who will now face up to three tests in just one school year."

Teaching unions had voiced opposition to any plan to repeat the autumn check. 

Kevin Courtney, NEU joint general secretary, said earlier this year: "The 2020 check was a distraction for teachers, a source of stress for some children and a measure that did nothing to help schools re-engage their pupils with learning.

The 2020 catch-up test had been extremely controversial with school staff.

The NAHT school leaders' union had called for it to be scrapped, arguing that the test carried a "completely unnecessary bureaucratic burden" with "zero academic value".

But the Department for Education would not budge on the plans.

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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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