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Big jump in infants mastering phonics, but test results raise questions about teacher marking

The proportion six-year-olds reaching the expected standard in phonics reading skills this year climbed to 69 per cent, test results published today show.

That represents a 10 percentage point jump compared to 2012, the first year the controversial phonics checks were run.

Education Minister Elizabeth Truss said: “The phonics 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 catch up with their peers and develop a love of reading.”

The tests identified 177,000 pupils below the expected level who the government says need this extra help. But the results will again raise questions about the accuracy of teacher marking.

It is teachers who administer the tests – which require pupils to read 40 words, 20 real ones and 20 “pseudo words”, aloud – and record how many each pupil got right.

As in 2012, the overall distribution of pupils’ scores show a huge spike at 32 marks – deemed, in both years, to be the threshold for achieving the expected level.

Teacher assessment figures for reading, writing, speaking and listening, maths, and science at the end of Key Stage 1 were also released this morning.

They show that from last year the proportion of seven-year-olds reaching the expected level (level 2) rose one percentage point in reading to 89 per cent, two points in writing to 85 per cent, one point in speaking and listening to 89 per cent, and one point in science to 90 per cent. The result for maths was the same as last year, 91 per cent.

The government is currently consulting on the future of assessment in primary schools. It says a measure of progress throughout the school should be retained, but has suggested various options for how this could affect the assessments and tests currently taken at the end of reception year (age five) and the end of year 2 (age seven).

Options include keeping the tests for seven-year-olds as they are now - statutory but internally marked; or introducing a new assessment at the beginning of reception year and making the tests for seven-year-olds optional for primary schools, although they would remain statutory for infant schools. 

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