The Year One Phonics Test – My View

Mr Gove is at it again. Fiddling about with my children’s education and I am NOT happy about it. This time he’s after Bonus Boy and, with both my teacher hat and my parent hat firmly on my head, I am cross.

This Summer all Year One children will be tested on their phonics knowledge …it’s called ‘a screening check’ but it is a test. There is no doubt that phonics are an important part of learning to read and write. Finding out how to blend sounds together to decode some of those tricky words in English is a very useful tool but it is not the only one. By year one most children are using a range of skills to decode words and access stories at varying levels. Their teachers are keeping a close eye on them, are using all their professional skills to move each child along and are reporting back to parents about progress or areas of concern.

The test is apparently designed to confirm whether children have grasped the basics of phonic decoding and to identify if additional support is needed (note Mr Gove doesn’t offer funding for this additional support. This government has also withdrawn funding for the one to one tuition programme set up by the previous government which offered catch up support to children who were struggling). Year One teachers already do this and, on the evidence I have seen in the many classrooms I have visited and worked in, they do it in a far less intrusive and potentially damaging way than this test does.

My main concerns are:

  • Only 32% of children in the pilot test ‘passed’. If your child is unlucky enough to ‘fail’ you have to be told. Many parents, myself included, will tear up that bit of paper or shrug of that piece of news and carry on reading whole sentences or even *gasp* whole stories with our children. We will continue to help them to acquire all those skills needed for reading; we will talk about content, we will look at pictures, we will predict what the next word might be using our previous knowledge, we will use picture clues, we will enjoy reading. Some parents, however, will not. They will see that word ‘fail’ and they will apply it to their parenting skills and/or to their children. Five and six year olds are NOT failing at phonics, they are learning at their pace. This is not, as Mr Gove said, a test to inform teachers it is yet another unhelpful measure of ‘success’ or ‘failure’ at a very early age – some children will be 20% older than others in the class, that is one fifth of their little lives, one fifth more reading time. Fair Mr Gove?
  • The test is made up of a mixture of real words and MADE UP WORDS! This is apparently to assess decoding skills specifically and make sure they can’t guess the word! One of the skills of reading IS guessing what the word might be using your previous knowledge of text. What a stumbling block! If you had put this test in front of my first born who read very early and was pretty fluent by year one he would’ve hesitated, he would’ve been reluctant to have a go, he would’ve doubted himself BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT REAL WORDS! Can you imagine if Mr Gove was in opposition and a Labour Government proposed a test containing the words ‘snemp’ or ‘thazz’ or ‘chom’? I think he’d be shouting about the loony left, teaching our children gibberish!

In a time when we have so little money to spend, the money which has been invested in this bit of nonsense could’ve been invested in getting more phonic support materials into schools, something which would actually give practical support rather than another set of figures to beat teachers’ parents and, ultimately, children with.

This rant started because I was sent Oxford Reading Tree’s new ‘My Phonics Kit’ to review which has come out as a result of the announcement of this test. Until then I hadn’t been aware that it was looming. The kit is designed to provide support for the phonics check but don’t let that put you off!

It is actually a really useful little tool in your ‘helping my child learn to read’ armoury. My older children all learned to read by following the adventures of Biff, Chip, Kipper and Floppy the dog with his magic key and this phonics set introduced Bonus Boy to the characters for the first time. It comes with six interactive eBooks and activities on a CD-ROM, three workbooks and a reward chart with stickers (always a hit with him!). Combined with our daily reading of his school reading book, our sharing a story at bed time, the word games we play and the magazines and books he shares with his siblings this is a very useful extra. More than that, he has enjoyed it and THAT is what matters about learning to read.

I’d love to read your comments on this one. Do you think we need to be testing our children at every stage of their development or does it do more harm than good? Who are these tests actually for?




Filed under Book Reviews, Books For Kids, Children's Development, Reading, Reviews, School

41 responses to “The Year One Phonics Test – My View

  1. What age is it suitable for? At 3.5 years old the little one loves her books and I am very keen to get her to the stage where she can read herself. She is very keen. Would you recommend this?

  2. It sounds like my son is at the same stage as your Bonus Boy. I had no idea about the test, but it just seems completely crazy to test at this age when there are so many factors that can effect the level of the childs understanding.

    A couple of months ago my son wasn’t really interested in reading for himself. He could pick out letters and sounds, but just wasn’t quite ready. Now it is like something has just clicked and he can work it out. If I had got a letter saying that he had ‘failed’ his test, I hope I would have torn it up, but there would have been a doubt in my mind.

    A friend of mine, whose little girl is in a different school was told at parents evening, that her daughter was below average in the class – this was said in front of the little girl. It just does not seem right at age 4/5 to be comparing them with other children and to be testing them.

    If over the summer I do get a fail letter, I shall rip it up and trust my own instincts as a mother. Thanks for making me aware of this.

    • In front of her?! Appalling, that really makes me so sad (and cross), children learn when they are happy and confident and at that age they believe they can do anything…and they can! Thank so much for visiting…I’m off to look at your place now, what a fabulous blog name!🙂

  3. I am with you entirely. Kieran is five and in Year one so presumably will be taking this test this summer. I will ask ask his teacher about it. I don’t have any specific concerns about his reading ability having been told he is above national average and his phonics ability is fine. This isn’t my issue, pass or fail is it necessary to test children in this way. That said, if the pilot pass mark is 32% then who knows whether he will have the Red F on file or not.

    Personally I wonder if the government might better use the money spent on these tests and their analysis to reinstate some of the teaching assistants who were made redundant this year as a result of yet another budget cut? It could be argued, assuming the government believes that there is an issue with the level of phonic learning in schools, that having trained staff in helping with the ongoing phonic and reading support could further aid learning through consistency of approach. Currently Kieran’s reading in school can be done by any number of parent helpers as well as his teacher and the existing TA’s.

    A great post Chris, I wasn’t aware this testing had been introduced.

    *I’m not knocking the parent helpers as they do a fantastic job!

    • I think the money would be far better spent on TAs. At the moment BB is listened to one to one once a week, not always by his teacher and that really isn’t enough. The idea that at 5 a child is failing is just awful. Thanks for commenting Nicki, very much appreciated!

  4. Hi. My daughter is a summer born Y1 so will be having this lovely test at some point. I only heard about it when looking round a school recently for a job. E reads well for her age and has grasped phonics as well as all the other reading cues. She picks up new vocab in context and the made up words are sure to confuse her – unless they are told about it first?
    The support material above bugs me a bit as it puts it on the paranoid parent to spend money and almost ‘hothouse’ their children. BUT I’m sure it works as a learning tool.
    This adds to my desire to not return to teaching😦

    • That’s why I HOPE I made it clear I was not supporting it as support for this test but as a tool to help your child read and enjoy reading! I’m not going back to teaching either, there have been some encouraging developments recently with the broadening of the curriculum but this constant testing is wrong and I cannot be a part of it.

  5. I spoke to MIni’s teacher about this at Parents evening and she said it hadn’t yet been decided if they were going to implement the test. As a school there policy is to avoid testing and I know that Maxi, who is in year two will not be doing his sats. His teachers just fill it in with what they feel they would achieve, as they are watching them and aware of where they are anyway.

    Mini has set words that she has to spell each week (used to be read), so his English teacher is aware of what level he is at and there is no need to introduce another test, Mini would not read made up words as he will know they are not a real word, Just like T wouldn’t have,

    • ‘It will be a statutory requirement for all schools to carry out the screening check’ according to the DfE website so they will be breaking the law if they don’t do it. Good on them if they stand up to be counted! Most schools will do it, the sensible ones will not make a big issue of it (BB’s won’t)but some will and it is the children in those schools (whether that be one child or thousands) which worry me. No child should be set up to fail…it’s the sort of thing which has a long term effect on lives.

  6. Omg! I too am so cross. My boy is in year one and I can’t believe how much homework he gets! He loves to read and I – having digressed from the ‘compulsary’ reading books for my now 9 yr old, have stocked up on Dr Seuss and buff and kipper at home. Too much, too soon and my daughter at age 9 is now struggling to keep up. She is youngest in the year and learns in a very practical way. Ie moving objects from one side to another when learning maths. Because she is not learning in the ‘mainstream’ way, she is labelled as ‘struggling’. She isn’t, she just doesn’t learn at the pace they want her too. This is where the home educators have got the right idea. Kids learn in their own way at their own pace. Phew! Sorry, rant over … I’ve probably strayed off your point completely now. sorry x

    • We don’t do homework with Bonus Boy unless he really wants to do it. In year one home time is home time as far as I am concerned and homework is optional! Thanks for commenting and not off the point at all!🙂

  7. I think the government are a bunch of snemp’s, thazzes and chom’s.

  8. This makes me so cross. As you say, at a time of cutbacks why waste money on a pointless ‘test’? My sister’s a R/Y1 teacher who recently had to ask her PTA to pay for pencils. Thank you for flagging this and explaining it so well.

  9. Karen

    Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention. My 3rd child is currently in Yr1 and I don’t recall his teacher mentioning this at parents evening last week!?
    I think it is fundamentally wrong to test children at this age. Don’t get me wrong, Charlie is a very competent reader for his age and is only 1 level off becoming a free reader (so he told me last night). However the trick words that you mention would definitely trip him up. The thought of him sitting down to a test makes me want to scream.
    His best friend at school spent the first 3yrs of his life in hospital due to a triple organ transplant. The mere fact he is at school and developing social skills and learning through play is a major achievement. His parents do not need to be told his academic level in comparison to a national average. Especially when there is no funding to provide extra support. This makes me so mad! They are little, they should be playing and learning at their own pace. They have many, many years of hard work and tests ahead of them.
    I do agree however that the Magic Key books are wonderful so I’ll be on the look out for the phonics pack.

    • I would take the fact that it wasn’t mentioned at parents’ evening as a good sign, hopefully the school are going to be relaxed and low key about it. I agree with you completely, they should be playing and learning at their own pace and there is no need for an external test at this stage in their development.

  10. This is so wrong. My youngest is 7 this month and until recently he was behind in his reading and in his own words he felt ‘stupid’ which broke my heart and made me cry more than a few times.

    Our school had a Reading Recovery program which they couldn’t offer to more than two pupils because of the huge costs involved (about £1200 a term I think) and I can’t ever say how grateful I am that he got chosen to do the course.

    Not because I thought he was a failure, I knew he’d get there in his own time but because it was awful that he felt like a failure himself – I can’t imagine what these tests would have made him feel like.

    With the fantastic support of the school he’s now caught up and is exceeding what he should but more importantly, he has grown so much in confidence that he’s a different child.

    Oh and the school can’t offer the course any more as they have no funding for it so if he’d been a year younger, he wouldn’t have had it!

    • Oh Cass…that is the problem in a nutshell, thank you SO much for commenting. I’m delighted that your little chap got good support, what a difference good teaching can make!

  11. Sam

    *sticks own head in blender in disgust*
    Thanks for the post though- would bever have known otherwise.

  12. Midge

    Hi my son is only 15 months old but I have a nephew who is 6 and I feel testing children at this early stage in life can really affect their confidence for many years to come. The government don’t realize what harm they can do just to gain a few more statistics.
    I’m sure there will be something new by the time my little man starts school but thanks for the heads up🙂

  13. I am really cross about this too, we finally get rid of the SAT tests and they bring in more testing and at a younger age. Why can’t we leave learning to read until later and why does it need testing at such a young age?

    • I KNOW! Why must they fiddle and why must they take all the joy out of learning to read? That is what makes people readers, the pleasure of it, not how well they can read letter combinations.

  14. We have the phonics learning and these books in Scotland but we don’t have the tests, yet. My oldest is in P1 which I think is reception in England. So he may get it if it comes up here next year. I feel they are too young to be given tests, learning at this stage should be fun or it will put them off. This sets bad habits for later on when they do need to knuckle down.

  15. Claire

    What a great Blog Thank you, this is so relevant to every parent with a young child at the moment doubly so for me as I have a child in this age group and is my chosen topic (after much discussion with teachers within early years) is going to be the topic for my dissertation.
    The EYFS pushes free flow play however if teachers do not deviate from free flow play how can children be expected to pass the test. I am informed that the test actually calls for children to pass areas that just a couple of years ago were expected to be able to achieve at the end of year 2, also sounds included in this phonics list are only expected by speech therapists to come into play when the child is 7. A typical case of government advice working against not only there own guidance but against seasoned specialists such as teachers, speech therapists, and developmental boundaries of human nature. I am not certain (as I can’t find the results written down at this moment) but from memory in the pilot only around 37 % of the children tested passed the new test….

    Any documentation you can recommend within this area would be greatly appreciated I am passionate about children and tests and really want to do a show stopping research proposal and dissertation.
    Kind Regards

    Claire Quinn

  16. Claire

    My apologies it is 32% and was clearly in your blog!

  17. I found out about this test from another blog post before Christmas. As a parent, I haven’t been told about it and the only reason I know from the school about it is I’m a governor and it was mentioned at the full governing body meeting. Missy’s teacher is a staff governor so she mentioned it. They are going to be very laid back about it tho parents evening are in a week or two and I’ll see what gets said about it then.

  18. All this testing of very small children, and even of older ones, makes me very uncomfortable. So much pressure. The parents feel it, the kids feel it, I don’t think it’s helping anyone to develop a love of learning.

  19. we need to leave our kids alone!

    being little is for fun and embracing learning and savouring each moment and each new experience.

    Testing sucks! I can think of no other eloquent way of putting this!

  20. Im a big advocate of holding of on using those other skills until there is a firm grasp of decoding skills. I honestly think employing too many strategies is too confusing. Yes lots of children will catch on quickly to using whole word and sentence reading but it’s later on when problems arise with spelling that is hard to reteach the basic sound code knowledge. But agree that this test just seems another time wasting exercise

  21. WORDS FAIL ME! I cannot believe that he’s bringing this test in. I work in secondary special needs and deal daily with the effects of pupils having been told they cannot do something from a very early age. It is a) not true, it just takes them a bit longer and b) heartbreaking. Children should be encouraged to learn and love learning, NOT to be afraid of failing.

    (At this point I need to swear. Loudly. *swigs wine*)

  22. Hellooo there Chris! Haven’t been around blog-world much lately as I have returned to the world of teaching and am up to my eyes in it!
    I very much agree with your post. I’m quite appalled by the idea of KS2 SATs let alone testing for year one. I did cartwheels when KS3 SATs weer scrapped, biggest waste of time ever.
    Gove makes me mad for many, many reasons…

  23. [rolls up sleeves] Right. What does ‘ghoti’ spell?

    ‘gh’ says ‘f’ as in ‘rough.’

    ‘o’ says ‘i’ as in ‘women.’

    ‘ti’ says ‘sh’ as in ‘action.’

    So ‘ghoti’ spells FISH.

    I rest my case.

  24. Not another test? I am seriously concerned about the huge pressure the Government is placing on our children. Unfortunately for me, I’m experiencing the bad side of the testing regime. My daughter who is in year 6 can no longer cope with the pressures and now refuses to go to school. The school are constantly practising for the SATS and she can’t take any more. We are gutted that she is feeling so low that she’s unable to return to school. Though my daughter has aspergers syndrome and other difficulties which makes her particularly vulnerable, many of her issues are due to the testing regime. Its a sad situation and its hard as a parent not to question our own parenting but we’ve done everything we can to support her. Unfortunately I don’t feel the education system has done enough to support her – too much pressure too soon. Great post by the way. Deb

  25. Berkley Bird

    I am a teacher. Phonics are important as Chris has so eloquently written. But a joyous approach to the wonders of reading is the key – wanting to read, immersing oneself in the imaginary or finding out about the real and fantastic world around us is what we are aiming for. Misery of failing is not a great ingredient in developing this is it!!! As a teacher I would say – Spend time with your children, read to them, introduce them to the funny, and the serious, and the thought provoking, and the wild and wacky, and the ‘rude’, and the interesting and the poetic and the mind expanding wonderful world of books. magazines, comics, posters, backs of cereal packets, any where with words. Enjoy!!!!

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