TES letters

27th June 2014 at 01:00

It's time for this `flawed' phonics check to go

An open letter to Michael Gove

Last week, all six-year-olds in England's primary schools were given the phonics screening check. We have serious concerns about the usefulness of this test and about the emerging negative effects on how children are taught to read in key stage 1.

Officially, the test assesses text decoding skills. Actually, it is dangerously confused. It contains 20 "real words" and 20 "pseudo words" such as "vap" and "ect". It is claimed that all the words can be blended from the letter sounds and are therefore an accurate measure of children's decoding ability.

With the pseudo words, any plausible pronunciation is marked correct. So children can decode "vead" as rhyming with "bed" or "seed". Accordingly, the pseudo words do indeed test decoding.and nothing else.

However, with real words, the blend must match the sound of a real spoken word. Hence "blow" pronounced to rhyme with "cow" is unacceptable. Had blow not been classed as a real word, a response rhyming with cow would have earned a mark.

So, here, the check no longer measures decoding only. Some five-year-olds may think that "blow" rhyming with "cow" might really exist, and accordingly offer an "incorrect" blend. After all, even if they have never encountered such a sound, children often hear adults making unfamiliar sounds. They could easily assume that they were proper words unknown to them.

Hence the real words in the test assess both the extent of children's spoken vocabulary and aspects of their confidence.

The phonics check is methodologically flawed, undermines the confidence of children, particularly some of the more able, has a negative impact on how reading is taught and is an inefficient, expensive and time-consuming way of assessing an aspect of children's reading ability. It is time to abolish it.

David Reedy, general secretary, UK Literacy Association; Andrew Davis, Durham University; Greg Brooks, emeritus professor, University of Sheffield, plus eight others. For the full letter, please visit tesconnect.comphonicsletter

Reading? It's not rocket science

If 75,000 children arrive at secondary school without reaching the expected level 4 in reading ("Why phonics won't fix poor readers' prospects", 20 June), this is despite six or seven years of obligatory immersion in phonics. One could logically conclude that the phonics approach did not suit these poor souls from the start. So why is the debate only about older children when these facts show that it is manifestly not effective for one in seven younger children either. Since good readers use a personal melange of skills in order to "crack the code" on the page in front of them, why on earth do we not share all these skills with all pupils from the start? It is not rocket science.

Janet Ash

It's not the years, it's the mileage

I entered teaching via a fast-track programme and was appointed to leadership positions at a relatively young age ("Fast-tracked leaders: too much, too young?", Professional, 20 June).

I agree that respect and a proven track record of teaching and classroom management are essential in order to be a credible school leader. However, I question the notion that these attributes result from a set amount of time in the classroom.

I've received the odd raised eyebrow or spiky comment. And I must admit that leading a large team aged 25 was a bit daunting. I've also probably worked harder to prove myself as a senior leader than a more established teacher would have done. But that doesn't mean that I wasn't ready for the responsibility.

Leaders require a whole host of skills and qualities beyond being a great classroom practitioner. They should be appointed on merit, not as a result of ageist definitions of experience.

Helena Marsh

Speculate to appreciate values

The national debate this week about British values has provided food for thought. Reference has been made to next year's 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta and prime minister David Cameron has decreed that all pupils should study this charter to implant British values and combat extremism.

It is in the interests of all of us that our children have the opportunity to explore the values and attitudes that we as a nation believe are important and to do so with the understanding that a whole range of different viewpoints exist in the wider world. Every child growing up in Britain today will encounter those differences throughout their lives. Tolerance cannot exist in a vacuum.

I have always preferred the word "appreciation" to tolerance. Appreciation means understanding the beauties and strengths of the other viewpoint as well as acknowledging the differences. It is ironic that some of the subjects that provide a forum for reflection and understanding are those being pushed to the margins by current changes in the national curriculum.

Lynne Taylor-Gooby
Principal of the Royal School, Haslemere, Surrey

First World War: the full story

Unfortunately, the article "First World War tributes are leaving pupils battle-weary" (20 June) does not encapsulate the substance of a year-long research project. We would urge anyone to access the full project report for an accurate representation of our results. These are far more nuanced and do not claim that all teachers cover only canonical material, or that all war poets were middle-class, or that all young people are bored of the centenary already. The project team also does not in any way endorse statements made by the education secretary Michael Gove or other commentators to the effect that teachers wilfully "misteach" the First World War.

Ann-Marie Einhaus, Northumbria University, and Catriona Pennell, University of Exeter


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