'Demoralising and crazy': teachers condemn phonics check

More than four in five heads think test should no longer be statutory for all pupils in Year 1

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Teachers have described the Year 1 phonics check as useless, depressing and crazy, and warn that five-year-olds who are not yet reading well can be demoralised by the experience.

Just 6 per cent of teachers feel the phonics check provides them with new information on children, a survey has found.

And the survey of teachers, heads and parents carried out by researchers at Newman University, Birmingham, and Leeds Beckett University, also found that 63 per cent of teachers said they had seen children affected by the test, with some saying it had made children cry.

The controversial check was introduced in 2012. It is taken at the end of Year 1 when children are aged five and six. It consists of 40 words, 20 real words and 20 pseudo words. The check is marked by the child’s own teacher.

The government has said that since the phonics check was introduced, reading standards have improved.

Last year, 81 per cent of Year 1 pupils passed the check, up from 58 per cent in 2012. Children who fail must retake the check the following year.

Here are seven other findings from the survey:

  1. 32 per cent of heads said the phonics check had affected the way children are taught to read in school “a great deal”. One teacher said: "We teach to the test. It's depressing and goes against everything most teachers want to deliver. Reading should be for pleasure, for learning and for life. Subjecting 5-year olds to 'failure' at reading is just crazy."
  2. 82 per cent of parents said they had been asked to practise pseudo words with their child to prepare them for the test.
  3. When asked if it was useful to have both real and pseudo words in the phonics check, 80 per cent of both heads and teachers said no.
  4. 74 per cent of teachers and 64 per cent of heads think it is not useful to for children to resit the check in Year 2. "Children who do not pass in Y1 clearly struggle to decode and alien [pseudo] words are not a useful way to identify their difficulties. It causes stress on these children," one teacher said.
  5. Most heads (84 per cent) and teachers (88 per cent) think the phonics check should no longer be statutory for all pupils in Year 1.
  6. 78 per cent of heads think it is not useful to assess all children on the phonics check in Year 1 – some mentioned that children working below the expected standard or who have special educational needs should not be entered for the check. One head said: "It can be very demoralising for a child who cannot sound out words above CVC [consonant vowel consonant]."
  7. 62 per cent of heads and 47 per cent of teachers do not think that that synthetic phonics should be mandated as the only method for teaching children to read.

Questions were answered by 1,108 teachers, 180 heads and 157 parents, unless indicated otherwise.

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