'The phonics check is a necessary and important part of teaching children to read'

This headteacher argues that it ensures children develop the range of skills they need to become confident, independent readers

Kulvarn Atwal

The evidence suggests that phonics is key for reading development, says one academic

Next week, the phonics check will be taken by students in primary schools and it will, as always, cause much discussion. In theory, I should not be a fan – it is the only area of statutory assessment at our school in which we do not keep pace with the national average. But, actually, I do agree that it has a place in our schools.

I am happy with the way that we are teaching reading and developing children’s love of reading in Year 1, but I am concerned that too many children are entering Year 2 having not achieved the expected standard in phonics.

Senior colleagues tell me not to worry. The assertion is that reading is not about phonics, and that we should focus on the development of a love of books and reading.

However, I don’t think the two have to be mutually exclusive.

A key part of reading

We need the test because we need to hold schools accountable for ensuring that our children gain the range of skills that they need to be able to develop as confident, independent readers. I can see from our own cohorts that those students who do badly on the phonics test continue to struggle with reading. Those that do well are soon expert readers.

And those that do well have a better view of themselves as a reader. This is important, as self-identification as a reader is really important to reading more and developing reading further. Children who have strong phonic knowledge tend to see themselves as readers. Older children in our school who continue to have gaps in their phonic knowledge are less likely to see themselves as confident readers.

A love of books

I am not claiming phonics is the only way of creating a confident reader, but I believe that it’s a necessary component within a wider range of strategies and activities that a school can promote and provide.

Alongside phonics, we should be sharing and developing a love of reading through passionate teacher modelling with engaging texts, and engaging our children in a range of comprehension activities, including listening to audio books, responding to film, and engaging in drama.

The test should be part of reading, not the entire focus of reading. If you keep it that way, it should be a useful tool, not something to fear.

Kulvarn Atwal is headteacher at Highlands Primary School in London

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