Literacy experts ‘deeply concerned’ about reading test for six year-olds
Press release: 28 October 2011
Embargoed until Friday 28 October 2011
Literacy experts ‘deeply concerned’ about government’s reading test for six year-olds
- Millions of pounds to be wasted as test will fail to accurately identify children’s needs
- High stakes approach will harm ‘enjoyment, comprehension and wider reading’
Many of the UK’s leading experts in the teaching of reading have written to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, to strongly advise against proceeding with the pet policy of his Schools Minister, Nick Gibb.
Mr Gibb has been the force behind the creation of a 40-word test (half of them ‘nonsense words’) for Year 1 pupils (five and six year olds).
The test was piloted recently and its findings welcomed by the Minister – much to the puzzlement of experts who argue the results are certainly no cause for celebration.
Amazingly, the government intends to proceed despite the negative evidence gathered by its own pilot study and the test will be imposed on every Year 1 pupil in England next summer – potentially leading to a variety of hugely detrimental consequences, including:
- ‘teaching to the test’ resulting in a reduction of pupil enjoyment, comprehension and wider reading
- those most at need of reading support not being accurately identified by the test anyway
- increased workload for teachers (15.5 hours of administration on average, dismissed by Mr Gibb as just taking ‘a few minutes to carry out’)
- five and six year-old pupils having less time with their class teacher
- the wasting of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money
The text of the letter to Mr Gove can be found in full below.
at the University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 7RH
Tel: 0116 223 1664
Fax: 0116 223 1665
Senior Professional Officer (Education) Ian Toone
Tel: 01332 372337
The Rt. Hon. Michael Gove MP
Secretary of State for Education
Department for Education
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3BT
Dear Secretary of State
An open letter regarding the ‘phonics check’ for six year olds in English primary schools
On Monday 19 September Nick Gibb, Schools Minister, released the independent report regarding the pilot of the phonics test for six year olds which is to be imposed on English primary schools in June 2012.
Mr. Gibb said ‘This study finds that the check will be of real benefit to pupils but takes just a few minutes to carry out and is a positive experience for most children.’
However this statement is at variance with several of the report’s findings. Many of our original fears have been confirmed by the evaluation report and the undersigned remain deeply concerned about the imposition of this test on all schools in England.
The reports finds, for example,that 54% of respondents disagreed that the check accurately assessed the decoding ability of pupils with EAL, 65% disagreed with regard to pupils with speech difficulties, 67% disagreed with regard to pupils with special educational needs and 72% disagreed with regard to pupils with language difficulties. Yet these categories of children are the very ones who are in most need of identification. Thus the test fails in its main purpose.
The results will be ‘high stakes’ as they will be collated centrally through RAISEonline and used by Ofsted when inspecting schools. Research shows that high stakes tests have a narrowing affect on the curriculum and in this case is likely to have a detrimental effect on areas such as enjoyment, comprehension and wider reading.
The claim that the test will only take a few minutes is flatly contradicted by the report which states that the average time for preparation and administration was 15.5 hours and even longer in large schools. This is equivalent to three days teaching. How will 6 year olds benefit if their teacher is otherwise engaged with the check and may also be out of class for this time or more?
If the intention of the check is to encourage primary teachers in England to teach phonics systematically the pilot informs us that almost all already do so.
Finally, the evaluation of the pilot informs us that 72% of schools experienced difficulties in relation to the use of pseudo words and that some able readers were confused. This confirms our previously expressed worry that the use of a test of only the decoding aspect of reading could actually harm standards in the longer term, with able readers mistakenly identified as needing further teaching of phonics and being held back as a result.
The government is proposing to spend millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money every year on a test which will increase workload, undermine teaching time, fail in its core purpose of accurately identifying children’s needs in reading and is unnecessary in promoting the already present teaching of phonics.
In the light of the findings from the evaluation of the pilot we are sure that ministers will be reconsidering the need for the phonics test for 6 year olds. The signatories of this letter would welcome an opportunity to discuss how teacher assessment of reading would identify and help young readers who are slow to start.
In the meantime we would appreciate any clarification you can give on the questions and issues outlined in this letter.
United Kingdom Literacy Association
John Coe, Chairman, National Association for Primary Education (NAPE)
Professor Robin Alexander, Director, Cambridge Primary Review
Alison Peacock, National Network Leader for the Cambridge Primary Review (CPR)
Professor Trisha Maynard, Chair, TACTYC and Director of Research Centre for Children, Families and Communities, Canterbury Christ Church University
Wendy Scott, President, TACTYC
Graham Trousdale, Chair, Committee for Linguistics in Education (CLIE)
John Hickman, Chair, National Association of Advisers for English (NAAE)
Mary Bousted, General Secretary, Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL)
Russell Hobby, General Secretary, National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT)
Christine Blower, General Secretary, National Union of Teachers (NUT)
Chris Keates, General Secretary, NASUWT
Philip Parkin, General Secretary, Voice
Matthew Martin, CEO, College of Teachers
Miles Berry, Senior vice Chair, NAACE
Simon Gibbons, Chair, National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE)
Penny Tyack, Programme Director and founder of Reading Quest.
Rona Tutt, Chair, National Literacy Association
Lorraine Petersen, Chief Executive, National Association of Special Educational Needs (NASEN)