Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Tue Jul 01, 2014 4:46 pm

Oh Frances5, it is very upsetting to hear about your daughter's school and the carry-on there.

John is right, however, that there is absolutely no need for this kind of scenario - and although it may appear as if its a consequence of the check and too much pressure on the schools, it is actually about the need for CPD and more transparency in the country about what REALLY works with regards to phonics provision and practices.

This is about teachers' professionalism at a basic level, too.

If the school is struggling with phonics provision as indicated by results, the school should have approached a phonics specialist - or been guided to have done so by those overseeing the school.

If the school is telling children they have failed, or indicating this in any shape, size or form, then this is a serious matter about their teachers' skills on a human level.

This issues have to be identified correctly - and the Year One phonics screening check is helping us to take a look at the difference between the kind of schools John has just described and the kind of schools that really do need help.

Whether they get the right kind of help that they need is another matter.

Very sorry.

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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by geraldinecarter » Tue Jul 01, 2014 8:08 pm

That's very upsetting, Frances. But John and Debbie are right. There's a senior teacher who contributes regularly to Mumsnet Primary thread. Her school doesn't revise the check, is totally relaxed about it - as are the children - gets excellent results and her children enjoy the check. Lack of knowledge and teacher confidence is a major issue - and needs addressing.

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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by geraldinecarter » Tue Jul 01, 2014 8:11 pm

Elizabeth has been engaging in a discussion on Linkedin and made this excellent response to a critic:

“this test is actually undermining the confidence of some children who are already reading well by the age of 6 as they try to make sense of words that are actually nonsense.” 1) There was a picture of a pretend creature by each of the nonsense words and the teacher was meant to explain that it was a pretend word for a pretend creature. Most 5 and 6 year old children find that easy to understand. 2) Children who have been taught to read words accurately using phonics do not change words to fit with words they already know and nor does anyone who is “reading well”. Children who do this have usually been encouraged to guess a word they already know to fit with the context, instead of reading accurately. It is not a good strategy. Some children who do that are able to pick up phonics easily and will be okay. But others, who appear to read well at the age of 6, continue to try to make words fit what they already know as they get older. It will not work when they try to read books with words they have not come across before. For some children who struggle to learn to read guessing becomes a habit that is hard to break. The difficulties caused by this habit are seriously undermining the confidence of many children.

“the alleged real words do not actually attain the full status of real words, given the way they are presented. They are isolated pieces of text, out of context ... wrongly represented as real words”. A word is a real word in or out of context!

“many schools are practising for the check with nonsense-word decoding exercises.” I agree with the authors that this is not a good idea, but there is no need for it. The nonsense words are for assessment, not for teaching. If children can decode nonsense words, they can decode words they have never come across before and this is a crucial skill in reading. It would be better if teachers asked children to practise reading real unfamiliar real words instead. The problem is not that the check is a bad idea, but that the purpose of reading nonsense words has not been made clear to teachers.

‘Teachers of early reading can assess whether six-year-olds can "decode" in a few seconds, at no extra cost, by listening to them read aloud from an appropriate text. They do not need a "check".’ First, I have heard several stories of teachers learning something useful from the check about a child’s ability to decode. Second, in many schools, when teachers know which children cannot decode, they put them in a group for phonics where they are taught away from the rest of the class, more slowly than other children and with no extra time for phonics. Teachers have told me that they thought that was what they were supposed to do. However, the result for most children is that they do not catch up; instead they get further and further behind. With the phonics check, the children who do not succeed in Year 1 (5-6 years) are checked again in Year 2 (6- 7 years). As a result, schools where groups of children get further and further behind get the message that they need to change what they are doing to make sure all their pupils can decode before Year 3 (7-8 years). Then they are free to enjoy reading and learn from it.

The danger is not in the phonics check, but in the campaigns of those who try to abolish it.

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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by john walker » Tue Jul 01, 2014 9:37 pm

The danger is not in the phonics check, but in the campaigns of those who try to abolish it.
Too right, Geraldine!
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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by kenm » Tue Jul 01, 2014 10:40 pm

frances5 wrote:I feel that there are problems with Y1 phonics check. In my daughter's primary school the level of stress being put on year 1 primary school children is awful. Last year 29% of children passed the phonics check and as a result the school was placed in an OFSTED inadequate category. Fun activites like Christmas parties and the school play have been cancelled to focus on phonics and SATs. The children are being taught by a constant stream of supply teachers as many of the teachers have been off sick with stress.

We need to think who this check is for [...]
Many teachers have realised that it is for them and are furious that their assumptions of their own competence are being challenged. In Tower Hamlets and Newham, well-taught children of south-asian ancestry have for several years been decoding far more accurately than children at some of the state schools in the leafy suburbs. The phonics check shows where literacy teaching is inadequate.

I am sorry that children and teachers are being stressed, but the teachers should be blaming the lecturers who trained them so badly, not the DfE, for this. OTOH, I would blame the DfE, both ministers and civil servants, for failing to introduce a number of other changes to state education. They should

1) Recruit only primary teachers who themsleves have adequate literacy and numeracy;

2) Examine the mandatory items in Education Departments' curricula and declare a qualification inadequate for primary teachers if the course does not include training in demonstrably adequate methods for teaching reading.

3) Recruit only teachers who understand the best current methods for teaching reading and the research that has identified it.

4) Whenever recommended methods change, tie some of the funding for affected schools to training for the teachers who must implement the change.

5) Ensure that Ofsted inspectors have similar up-to-date understanding.
Last edited by kenm on Thu Jul 03, 2014 11:21 am, edited 1 time in total.
"... the innovator has as enemies all those who have done well under the old regime, and only lukewarm allies among those who may do well under the new." Niccolo Macchiavelli, "The Prince", Chapter 6

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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by kenm » Wed Jul 02, 2014 3:11 pm

frances5 wrote:I feel there is a wider of issue of how best to support struggling schools. I am not sure that treating teachers/ head teachers like footballers/ football managers is the best way to go.
I would like teachers whose pupils do badly in the phonics check and KS2 to visit schools obtaining good results with an intake of similar socio-economic origin (especially in the tests requiring good comprehension) to observe their teaching methods in action. Most teachers want their pupils to do well, but some need to be shown how to achieve this.

This is, of course, somewhat similar to how good coaches treat footballers: I am thinking in particular of the modern use of video of their own and other matches, the former, inter alia, so that they can see their own mistakes; the latter to demonstrate how to organise to overcome particular strategies or star players that they are likely to meet.
"... the innovator has as enemies all those who have done well under the old regime, and only lukewarm allies among those who may do well under the new." Niccolo Macchiavelli, "The Prince", Chapter 6

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Re: Debate: Is it time to ditch the Y1 phonics screening test?

Post by john walker » Thu Jul 03, 2014 8:47 am

Ken is right. I like your suggestions in your previous post, too, Ken :grin: .
Comparing teachers and heads and footballers and football managers is actually a false dichotomy, Frances. Football managers (and the support network behind them) analyse to the nth degree everything each individual footballer does, as Ken indicates, and they then work on ironing out whichever skills need more work. Years ago, I greatly admired the work of Barbara Knapp, who once wrote: skill is the ability to bring about predetermined results often, with maximum certainty and the minimum outlay of time or effort or both. This is why Barcelona Football club has a school for budding soccer players and it has the in-house expertise to train them to a high degree of proficiency. It is also why they have been for long a major force in European football. Being a head should be no different. Heads don't always have the individual expertise to identify what areas of teaching their staff need to improve. What they do have is the power to bring in people who do or develop in-house people who do.
Teaching reading and writing (or mathematics for that matter) skills is no different from teaching football, swimming, gymnastics. We need highly skilled, knowledgeable teachers teaching the nation's children and for that they need adequate training to be able to do the job.
It sounds as if there are two routes for the teachers at your daughter's school: one is that they get, as I said before, a hefty dose of CPD; the other is that they continue to feel insecure, go off sick through stress, bury their heads in the sand, or blame that very nasty Mr Gove ;-).
John Walker
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http://literacyblog.blogspot.com

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