Friday, December 09, 2011

Two-thirds of children fail new reading test

We might at last be about to gain some real insight into how well children in England’s primary schools are being taught to read. It seems that in a trial run of the new reading test, in which some 8,963 children from 300 schools took part, and which is about to be rolled out at the end of this academic year to all Y1 pupils, only 32% passed.
According to Nursery World, only a quarter of the schools taking part in the trial are actually teaching systematic synthetic phonics. The rest are continuing to use the mixed methods approach that has been so discredited by the research.

Personally, I find it truly shocking that such a small proportion of schools are teaching systematic synthetic phonics when the last government was claiming that this is what all schools had been doing since the Jim Rose issued his report. Apparently, BBCNews is quoting the Department for Education as saying that only 27% of schools use phonics systematically.

These results are totally out of kilter with the results of the national curriculum tests, which show eight out of ten children meeting the levels expected of them at the ends of Key Stages 1 and 2. However, they tally almost exactly with the anecdotal evidence we get from SENCos of secondary schools who, after screening their Year 7 intakes to determine which pupils are going to need extra support in their reading, tell us that as many as seventy-five percent  have a reading age below their chronological age. It also gives us an insight into why so many young people are leaving schools without the literacy skills required for the world of work or for higher education.

Nick Gibb is today reported as saying that:
‘We need to face up to the uncomfortable truth that, despite the hard work of teachers, not enough of our children are able to read to a high enough standard. We have to take account of our place internationally and listen to business leaders concerned about many school leavers’ literacy. The Government can no longer simply congratulate itself on the proportion of pupils reaching the expected level.’
He’s right of course but the sad truth is that the government has not made its match-funding initiative a priority for training teachers.

If Michael Gove and Nick Gibb don’t change tack and give precedence to the training of teachers, we will continue to see the same kinds of results. When I visited Nick Gibb two years ago before he became a government minister, the advice Sounds-Write gave him was that he needed not only a reading test but a spelling test. Children’s writing (spelling) tells us much more about their understanding of how the writing system works and how it is used than tests of reading alone, valuable though they are.

Sadly, this latest news has attracted the usual adverse criticism. When it comes to teaching children how to read and spell, the leaders of the major unions can always be relied upon to make the usual rebarbatively ignorant comments, Russell Hobby, of the NAHT, and Christine Blower being amongst the latest. On the Reading Reform Foundation forum it was recently reported that Greg Wallace, head teacher at Woodberry Down school in Hackney and a champion of synthetic phonics, had appeared on a television programme with Christine Blower, the leader of the NUT, after which Blower had admitted never having seen synthetic phonics being taught in the classroom. As it says on the RRF, surely a case of the ideology being more important than the reality!

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