Why `pseudo words' may not be wise

Phonics check is `dangerously confused', educationalists argue

The phonics check for five- and six-year-olds in England is "dangerously confused" and should be abolished, according to an open letter to education secretary Michael Gove.

The pound;4.3 million test, which was taken this month by more than 630,000 children, has proved highly contentious since its introduction last year. Each child reads a list of 40 words to their teacher, containing 20 real words and 20 pseudo words that are presented as the names of imaginary creatures. The pseudo words are included because they are new to all children and so should be a fair test of decoding skills.

But David Reedy, general secretary of the UK Literacy Association, Andrew Davis from Durham University, union leaders and other education experts have complained that the check is flawed and undermines children's confidence. "It is an inefficient, expensive and time-consuming way of assessing an aspect of children's reading ability," they write in a letter to Mr Gove, published in this issue of TES.

They point out that children are allowed to give any plausible pronunciation of nonsense words - for example, "vead" could rhyme with "head" or "mead". But the same rules do not apply to actual words, which they say contradicts the idea that the test assesses only children's ability to decode sounds.

The letter comes after the official government evaluation of the phonics check last month found that assessment of phonics progress had increased and phonics teaching time had grown. In 2013, 69 per cent of six-year-olds met the expected standard of being able to read 32 words or more correctly.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We are determined to eradicate illiteracy and our phonics check is a key part of this objective."

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For blogs, resources and a live chat with the Department for Education about the new curriculum for key stages 1-3, go to www.tesconnect.comEnglishWeek

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