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
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