MORE than 25,000 primary school pupils across Yorkshire have not reached the expected standard in a controversial new phonics reading test which has come under fire from teachers for branding children as “failures” at the age of six.
Almost half the pupils who sat the 40-question test in Yorkshire this year failed to hit the Government target with the region’s schools failing to match the national average performance, according to figures published yesterday.
New data from the Department for Education (DfE) also show that by the time pupils are assessed at seven years old Yorkshire has fallen further behind the rest of the country and has England’s lowest level of pupils reaching the expected standard in both reading and writing.
The new phonics test asks pupils at the end of the end of their first year of formal schooling to sound out or decode words, including some that are made up, such as such as “voo”, “terg” and “bim”, to check their reading skill.
Ministers claim it is a “light touch” assessment which will help identify pupils who need extra help to learn to read. The leader of a head teachers’ union has warned, however, it could actually damage pupils’ progress.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “The DfE is well aware that teachers fear this test is not only a waste of time but can be very damaging indeed for young learners.
“Far from being a ‘light touch’ form of assessment, the phonics test caused days of disruption in classrooms across England and immense distress to young children labelled failures.
“It would be hard to find a school which does not already use phonics to help children learn to read. But they do so as part of a range of strategies designed to encourage and inspire young learners.”
He said the phonics test only showed how well pupils could decode words and not how well they read and understood them in context, and said his criticism was not of the phonics system but of the test.
“We know from year one teachers that among those who struggled to pass the test were the able readers who attempted to convert nonsense words such as ‘strom’ into words with which they were already familiar, in this case ‘storm’,” Mr Hobby added.
“The phonics test is a misguided piece of bureaucracy which should be consigned to history.”
Nationally 58 per cent of pupils reached the expected standard – correctly reading 32 words.
In Yorkshire the figure was 57 per cent, meaning some 26,000 pupils in the region have been identified as needing extra help.
Education and Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss said: “The reading check helps teachers identify those pupils who need extra help in learning to read.
“Many thousands of children will now receive the extra support they need to develop a love of reading.”
Results published by the DfE yesterday also show how seven-year-olds – in the year above those sitting the phonics test – were rated in teacher assessments.
These figures show Yorkshire has the lowest level of pupils getting to the expected standard in both reading and writing.
Eighty five per cent of the region’s pupils made the grade in reading compared with a national average of 87 per cent.
Almost one in five, 19 per cent, did not reach the standard expected of seven-year-olds in writing compared with a national average of 17 per cent.
Nationally the results showed a slight rise in the percentage of pupils reaching the expected level across all the subjects assessed: reading, writing, speaking and listening, maths and science.