Phonics testing for Key Stage One starts this week
Lisa Morgan from the Communications Trust believes that this test is not necessarily a reflection of a child’s reading.
Children in the UK, will sit down this week with their teach and read a list of 40 words, some will be real words whilst others will be made up. The test is to ascertain if our children have a good knowledge of letters and sounds that they can decode using this knowledge.
The government believes this test will help identify the children who are struggling with phonics and will need extra tuition or a different type of help to read.
This seems to make sense, but there is more to reading than just working out the sounds and blending letters together, but understanding what is read and enjoying the story as it unfolds.
Research shows that children’s enjoyment of reading is a fundamental part of the jigsaw. The written word and the spoken word are closely linked and so it is difficult to read words if you do not understand them.
So, it’s really important to acknowledge that the phonics check is just that – a check of phonics and not necessarily a reflection of a child’s reading. The phonics test will not consider the many other vital skills children need to be able to read effectively, for meaning and enjoyment.
Lisa Morgan told the guardian;
“The news of the check is important to me in two capacities. As a parent of a child in reception, I’m familiar with phonics (indeed I know Biff and Chip well!) and my son will be completing the check next year. I see how phonics does (and doesn’t) work for him.
Then, professionally, I’ve considered how the check will work specifically for some children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) and their teachers.
As the most common childhood disability, over one million children in the UK have persistent and long-term SLCN – that’s equivalent to two to three in every classroom.
Additionally, evidence has shown that in areas of social disadvantage, upwards of 50% of children are starting school with delayed speech, language and communication. That’s a lot of children.
Language and literacy are flip sides of the same coin – one influences the other and therefore it is no surprise that children with SLCN are at higher risk of literacy difficulties. So for many children with SLCN, the check will be challenging – how easily they can access it, how “well” they do and how they feel about the process.
There are challenges too for their teachers in interpreting their responses – working out what issues are about their phonics and what’s actually about their SLCN. This check has been controversial, receiving criticism from a number of education organisations.
At The Communication Trust, a coalition of voluntary organisations, because we have some concerns about the impact of the phonics test on children with SLCN, we have tried to be solutions-orientated and sought to support schools in using the check with their pupils with SLCN by producing the Communicating Phonics.
We do hope that it is possible for the check to meet its aim for all children, including those with SLCN, which is to see whether a child is using their phonic skills to decode real and novel words effectively. However, as we all know, reading is about a lot more than an ability
to decode print through phonics; other aspects need to be carefully considered.
Evidence shows there needs to be a rigorous and systematic approach to supporting speaking and listening skills for all children – extending vocabulary, supporting storytelling and developing understanding. An emphasis on oral language skills can make a big difference to children’s progress and provide a firm foundation to support ongoing literacy development.
The Communicating Phonics developed by the Trust supports teachers to understand different types of SLCN in relation to the check. It includes information on how to help children access it, how to interpret and respond to their results, as well as strategies to support their wider literacy development.
There are also a number of factsheets available covering they key principles about phonics and SLCN and how to support children’s literacy development. There is also one for parents of children with SLCN who may have concerns about the implications of the test.
As a professional, I hope that the check can be seen as just a small part of assessing how children are getting on with their reading; that it does identify children who are struggling with phonics so they can be supported to reach their full reading potential.
As a parent, I hope the same. There needs to be an ongoing focus on how a child understands what they read and how they enjoy and use their reading. This is essential to ensure every child is understood.”