New statistics show that 74 per cent of six-year-olds passed the phonics test this year, a significant rise from last year's figure of 69 per cent.
The test is taken at the end of Year 1 and consists of children reading out a list of 40 words – 20 real words and 20 pseudo or "nonsense" words such as "fim" or "clar". To pass the test, children must read 32 of the 40 words correctly.
Children on free school meals (FSM) performed considerably worse than their peers, with 61 per cent reaching the expected level compared with 77 per cent of other pupils. Just 56 per cent of boys on FSM met the standard this year compared with 66 per cent of girls.
School reform minister Nick Gibb said: “For too long, thousands of young people, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, were allowed to slip through the net and fall behind in reading.
“This government's drive to tackle illiteracy is putting a stop to that, and these results show that more and more schools are using phonics well, in order to get their pupils reading properly.
“Today's figures provide irrefutable evidence that our plan for education is working for young people across Britain with 100,000 more six-year-olds now on track to become proficient readers as a result our relentless emphasis on phonics. Had we not done so, those pupils would still be struggling today.”
If children do not pass the test in Year 1, they have to retake it the next year when they are seven. The government statistics published this morning, show that by the age of 7, 88 per cent of pupils had reached the expected level in phonics.
Children are also assessed separately on their reading at age 7. This assessment involves reading a passage and answering questions about it – 90 per cent of pupils reached the expected level 2 in this test, one percentage point higher than last year.
But the phonics check remains controversial with an official evaluation published earlier this year finding while teachers are broadly positive about phonics the single biggest effect of the test has been to increase the teaching of nonsense words.
Almost two-thirds of England’s Year 1 classes now learn pseudo words in phonics sessions. The evaluation also revealed the cost of administering the test is around £4.3 million or £4.99 per pupil.
The statistics come after the launch of the Read On Get On campaign, which calls on political leaders to ensure every child is a confident reader by the age of 11.
The campaign, led by Save the Children and backed by a coalition of charities, educationalists and businesses, points out that the ‘reading gap’ between children who are growing up in poor families and others is wider in England than in almost any other European country.
Why ‘pseudo words’ may not be wise 30 June 2014
Phonics check has increased teaching of nonsense words, official evaluation finds 1 May 2014
Resources: Popular phonics games, activities and lesson plans