NUT spells out opposition to test ‘that will label children failures’

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Teachers yesterday called for a campaign against the Government’s new reading test, including a possible boycott, as they warned pupils will be labelled as failures.

Delegates at the NUT’s annual conference in Torquay passed a resolution arguing that the mandatory testing of phonics is “unnecessary and inappropriate”.

The union argued that the Government’s policy of promoting phonics will send a message to schools and parents that other aspects of reading are less important.

It called for concerns to be raised with Ministers about the test “at every opportunity” and for the union’s executive to prepare a campaign, including a boycott, if the test is used towards league tables in the future.

Ministers announced plans for the reading test last year amid fears children with poor reading skills were slipping through the net.

The test, which is taken by pupils at the end of Year 1, the first year of compulsory schooling, is based on phonics, a system which focuses on sounds rather than recognising whole words, and has been promoted by the Government as the best way to boost reading standards.

Pupils are asked to sound out or decode a series of words, some of which are made up, to test their reading skills.

Speaking during the debate, John Holmes, of the NUT’s executive, said: “This Year 1 phonics check is just one more example which does absolutely nothing to inform or to raise reading standards. Indeed, the pilots have shown that it will label two thirds of children as failures, at the age of five or six.”

Teachers know how well children can read, how they are progressing and the best ways of helping them, Mr Holmes said.

He said the test could become as high-stakes as national curriculum tests, known as Sats, which are taken by pupils at the end of primary school.

Jennie Harper, a primary teacher from Croydon, told delegates: She added: “What concerns me most is that the message being sent to parents is that the teaching of phonics is a magic reading medicine that enables all children to read. And if it doesn’t work, then the fault lies with the way it’s been taught, with me, or within the child themselves.

“All children are different, and there’s no magic one-size fits all way of teaching children anything.”

Ms Harper also said the test includes “nonsense words”, adding “it is a true reflection of the testing culture that we are now in that we are now testing nonsense”.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We have been clear that the results for the reading check will not be published in league tables. Schools will be required to tell parents their own child’s results

“Standards of reading need to rise. At the moment around one in six children leaves primary school unable to read to the level we expect, and one in 10 boys leaves able to read no better than a seven-year-old. These children go on to struggle at secondary school and beyond.

“The new check is based on synthetic phonics, a method internationally proven to get results.”

Education Secretary Michael Gove could face a legal challenge over his free schools policy amid concerns that it is damaging children’s education.

The NUT said it was considering action over what it says is a refusal by Mr Gove to release information on the impact free schools will have on other nearby schools.

The union said it was in the public interest for this information to be in the public domain.

NUT deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “What we are talking about is the impact that free schools have on other schools, that we think are damaging to education for children in the system.”