Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Phonics Screening Test Debate

The first Phonics Screening Test results have been issued.

When the Department of Education announced the introduction of these tests back in December 2011 we had a debate on this blog about the usefulness of the test.  My concern was, and still is, that the results of the test will be used to measure children's ability rather than the purpose for which the tests are intended, which is to measure what 'method' of reading they are using in order to check if the teachers are teaching in the way the Department of Education would prefer them too.

The difficulties in interpreting this test include the following issues:
  1. The teacher may be teaching reading using phonics but a child may be exceptionally good at reading and is reading many words by sight, only to be thrown by the phonics test and score poorly on it.
  2. The teacher may not be using phonics as the main method of teaching, but may be having great success with other methods or a combination of methods.  Their class's phonics test results will be poor, but their class may be brilliant at actually reading.
  3. Many words cannot be decoded using phonics. Our language isn't 'neat' enough.
  4. And my main problem, which is that the Press and Media will use the results of the test to show how well our children are doing or not doing at reading, when actually the test check's method, not success.
The debate was reignited last week, when children came home with slips of paper detailing their results.  This thread on Mumsnet raged for 336 posts, with mums querying when they should worry, what they could do to help if the phonics score was low and asking how the test worked.  Children's author, Micheal Rosen, joined the discussion in his blog post here, and pointed out that phonics alone wouldn't help children read for pleasure.

Our daughter got 37/40. The expected level they are aiming for is 32/40, so I was happy.  But then realised I had no need to be 'happy' per se, as it hadn't tested her reading ability, just what method she primarily used to read.

This goes against my management style.  In the office I prefer to ask staff to produce a piece of work and I leave it up to them to decide what 'method' they will use to do it.  If the work is completed effectively and on time, then the 'method' isn't particularly important to me.

Here the powers-that-be are defining the 'method' that the teachers use.  It's one job where they persistently seem to be afraid to let the teachers just 'teach'.  Each teacher is different.  Each will have success with different methods.  Each child is different and will require a teacher who is adaptable and emphatic to best succeed.

Please can we stop testing whether teachers are 'doing what they are told' and simply let them teach?  The results will speak for themselves.*

*Assuming the SATs and GCSEs are appropriately set and test real knowledge and not just the ability to churn out facts the child doesn't understand of course!


  1. You are so right. My mum in heavily involved with dyslexic children and she rages constantly against the inflexibility of a system that leads to schools choosing their 'preferred method' of teaching kids to read and requiring the teachers to use it regardless of the neeeds of the individual children. It doesn't just apply to reading either.

    1. Thanks for commenting. It's the inflexibility bit that makes me most mad. We are all different, but if someone somewhere says that a particular thing is the best, then we try and force that on everyone. I hope it improves.

  2. Totally agree with your sentence "Please can we stop testing whether teachers are 'doing what they are told' and simply let them teach?"
    These days teachers are jumping through so many hoops to prove they are doing their job properly, it is actually a hindrance.

    1. Agreed. Not sure what the answer is though. Just hope the powers that be start to realise this and are able to improve things.

  3. Yes, you are so right. It is so easy to get caught up in analysing a method, but surely it is the results that are important. Maybe if we got back to basics, children could get back to being individuals, rather than numbers to be entered onto report sheets.

    1. Ahhh yes. Individuals. What are they again?

  4. Popping in from the Education Roundup on BritMums as I check the links. My twins start school in September I have all this to come and am watching others to see what it's all about.
    Interesting points made here, going to pop over to your reading books for preschoolers now ;)

    1. Hi, Good to have you here. Some of my favourite children's books are now shared in the Children's books page (tab above) and we have a Starting School article coming up later this week, so feel free to subscribe so you don't miss it!


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