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 This government has also withdrawn funding for the one to one tuition programme set up by the previous government which offered catch up support to children who were struggling).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?