Testing at Six

Written by John Coe of the National Association for Primary Education (in a personal capacity).This article first appeared in issue 111 of the SEA journal “Education Politics” available from the SEA at socialisteducation@virginmedia.com

 Professional advice has been ignored and the government has had its way. The ARA (Assessment and Reporting Arrangements) for the check on phonic knowledge has passed into law and next June all schools, including academies and free schools, must subject their five and six year olds to the check.  In fact check is not the right word to use since what is intended is a test and the results, pass or fail, must be communicated to parents. Furthermore children who fail to reach the government’s required standard must take the test again in 2013. They constitute no small group –  68% failed the pilot test.  The peak of our politicians’ obsession with testing has been reached.

The political intention is of course to dictate how schools teach reading when young children are tackling the skill for the first time in the Foundation Stage or in Year 1. The most recent letter from the Minister for Schools to the seventeen professional associations which have come together to campaign against the test indicated that he expected teachers to “support” children who fail.  This is mealy mouthed politician speak for “teach” and already too many schools are drilling their pupils twice a day in the hope that the results when sent to RAISEonline will not trigger an inspection which will bring criticisms of their teaching. The bold statement in the 2010 White Paper that teachers know best how to teach is now exposed as mere rhetoric. The intention is to determine teaching methods through preparation for the test. Ministers’ refusal to accept professional advice that results should not be placed on line was absolute confirmation that the check is not simply screening but a measure of schools’ performance in meeting requirements resulting from the imposition of a teaching method which has the potential to damage early learning and to lower achievement in later years.

Teachers working with children in the all important earliest years now face a major challenge.  Do they allow the test to dominate their teaching or will they continue with a sensible and balanced approach to phonics teaching? Authoritative studies have shown the superiority of a balanced approach which includes not only phonic decoding and sight recognition of words which are not phonically regular but also, and of great importance, the syntactical and semantic clues which help children to attach meaning to the symbols put before them. 

Encouragement can be drawn from the news that only one in seven primary schools have accepted additional government funding on condition that they use politically approved teaching materials. The bribe is just one sign that government seeks to move from deciding what should be taught  (programmes of study) to controlling how the teaching should be undertaken (pedagogy).  The government’s tightening grip on the process of education, first signalled in James Callaghan’s speech in Oxford in 1976, is nowhere shown more strongly than in the events surrounding the current review of the national curriculum. The government nominated a panel composed of experts, each of them highly regarded by teachers, to advise them. The recommendations brought to ministers are not to their political taste and so the contracts of the Expert Panel have not been renewed. Now the review is being undertaken by DfE officials who, properly careful of their tenure, must try to please their masters.

The restoration of a mutually confident partnership between government and the teaching profession must be a high priority for the future. Our pupils and their families deserve nothing less.

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37 Comments on “Testing at Six”

  1. John Wilks says:

    What an excellent statement! I will be distributing it to all members of the London Association for the Teaching of English. The dogmatic, authoritarian decisions of this Government must be vigorously challenged.

  2. extragrades says:

    Today teachers need to be more responsible and take their jobs seriously. In developing countries teachers often lack even the basic skills that are necessary for teaching.
    We have launched a free portal for students, we offer free study guides as well as free tests.

  3. teachingbattleground says:

    “Authoritative studies have shown the superiority of a balanced approach which includes not only phonic decoding and sight recognition of words which are not phonically regular but also, and of great importance, the syntactical and semantic clues which help children to attach meaning to the symbols put before them.”

    This is just a straightforward lie, isn’t it?

    • johnebolt says:

      No – just common sense. Children need to understand and to be interested in what they read. Michael Rosen puts it much better than i can:

      “In other words, by isolating and elevating phonics into this prime method, testing it and then describing it as ‘reading’, we are in serious danger of losing sight of what reading is for. Or put another way, we’re in serious danger of producing some (how many?) five, six and seven year olds who can ‘bark at print’ but who are ‘getting’ very little from what they’re reading. In which case, I and most of us would say, what’s the point?”

      • teachingbattleground says:

        This appears to be an argument for the anti-phonics position. Previously, however, you claimed it was demonstrated by “authoritative studies”.

        Are you now admitting that this was not true?

      • teachingbattleground says:

        Sorry, that should be “previously the article claimed” as opposed to “you claimed”.

  4. Battleground – what do you teach, and for how long? Declaration – I qualified in English and taught for 35 years, and I fully support Rosen’s position. I also learned to read by a mixed methodology – why should I be so arrogant as to assume that modern children shouldn’t?

    • teachingbattleground says:

      And another person trying to put up their own anti-phonics case rather than addressing the point that the above article appears to have simply lied.

      Don’t you think you should at least acknowledge that point before trying to start a more general discussion? Nobody is going to join a debate with people they suspect might be indifferent to the truth.

      • So what do you teach? What is your experience? And where do I say I am against phonics? I am for teaching kids in whatever style and scheme that suits their needs, but I am not so naive as to believe that one size fits all. But that’s what experience, rather than simple assertion, teaches one.

      • Perhaps you could identify, and using evidence rebut, the ‘lie’ that you say this piece contains. As you will be aware a simple assertion carries no weight, is unpersuasive and unlikely to convince others of your correctness.

  5. teachingbattleground says:

    Richard,

    What sort of evidence would you think would demonstrate that these “authoritative studies” don’t exist?

    Normally it is up to the person claiming studies exist to identify them, not for other people to demonstrate that unidentified studies don’t exist. I only know they are highly unlikely to exist because I have spent a lot of time studying the evidence, which is not something I can easily prove or demonstrate in a comment.

    That said, your efforts to change the subject to my background, does make me wonder if you already know they don’t exist.

    • Read what Michael Rosen has written. But I ask again, what is your experience in this field? Have you any advice on how to prove a negative? Because usually that is considered quite hard. I ask again, on what experiential basis do you call this article a lie?

      Failure to answer makes you look like a troll.

      • teachingbattleground says:

        Which part of “I have spent a lot of time studying the evidence” didn’t you understand?

        But I guess asking me questions is the easiest way to dodge the issue of the apparent lie in the blogpost and the complete indifference you all seem to have to the issue of whether the original blogpost contains a lie or not.

  6. Ann Kittenplan says:

    Does this help?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2005/dec/08/schools.uk1

    It’s an article by a Professor Henrietta Dombey from 2005.

    “Synthetic phonics is far from being proved to be “the best method” (Letters, December 6) for teaching children who are slower to learn to read. Reputable studies published in journals on both sides of the Atlantic have shown the superiority of a balanced approach, paying attention to both the mechanics of word recognition and to the construction of meaning. Perhaps even more importantly, such studies have shown that the quality of teaching and the quantity of engaging texts that children read make more of a difference to their achievement than do their teachers’ approaches to early word recognition.”

    • teachingbattleground says:

      She doesn’t name the “reputable studies” either. There are plenty of phonics denialists out there, including academics and people who get published in education journals (although usually not in psychology journals where the standards are higher). The problem is the complete lack of empirical evidence (as opposed to untested theories) to support their position.

      That said, the particular issue here that I have raised is the attempt to pretend that some quality research supporting the denialist position exists by talk of the authority of unidentified studies. Either the denialists here know of no studies supporting phonics denialism, or they know that none of denialist studies can actually be described as “authoritative” or “reputable”. Either way, it does not say much for their honesty if they are unwilling to acknowledge that the weight of evidence goes the other way and, worse, that they are actually willing to defend claims about studies that are simply not true.

      • Ann Kittenplan says:

        1. OP says “Authoritative studies have ***shown the superiority of a balanced approach***”. You then quote this, as part of a longer sentence but as I read it the assertion is that this is part of the lie.

        There is an article from a Professor of Education which says:

        “Reputable studies published in journals on both sides of the Atlantic have ***shown the superiority of a balanced approach***, paying attention to both the mechanics of word recognition and to the construction of meaning.”

        This seems to be strong support for the OP from a reputable source.

        You then state, accurately, that Professor Dombey does not cite the studies. Why do you think that is? Is it because the reputable studies do not exist and she also lying? Or maybe she is mistaken? Or cherry-picking?

        The assertion that OP was lying no longer seems to hold. Mistaken? Maybe. Cherry-picking? Maybe. But unless Professor Dombey was also lying then it seems that the OP was not lying.

        Is that correct?

        2. Closely related to the above you assert:

        “The problem is the complete lack of empirical evidence…to support their position.”

        Again Professor Dombey states:

        “Reputable studies published in journals on both sides of the Atlantic have shown the superiority of a balanced approach, paying attention to both the mechanics of word recognition and to the construction of meaning.

        Now we *are* on the territory of proving a negative: it is not reasonable to ask you to prove the non-existence of the studies, but, given the categorical nature of your claim (“complete”), as you know, one counterexample would suffice to disprove it. Either Professor Dombey is lying (or mistaken) or such studies exist and the claim is disproven.

        Is that correct?

        3. Re “Denialism”. OP and Professor Dombey both use the phrase “balanced approach”. What constitutes balance is of course open to debate, but you, tb, seem to be stating that this is “denialism”. AISI this again does not hold water. Denialism would imply an outright rejection, surely?

        4. Closely related: “Either way, it does not say much for their honesty if they are unwilling to acknowledge that the weight of evidence goes the other way and, worse, that they are actually willing to defend claims about studies that are simply not true.”

        OP and Prof Dombey are making claims for the effectiveness of a balanced approach, are you saying that these claims are “simply not true”?

  7. John Norman says:

    I’m not a teacher, so these studies that prove that synthetic phonics isn’t much good aren’t part of my canon. It’d be a real help if you or anyone could just list, say, half a dozen of them. It’s always good to get as close to the source data as possible before reaching a judgment!

  8. So, let me get this straight, apparently, by merely objecting to such phonics screening we are all ‘denialists’; laughable!

    The government has blind sided the public again. From June, the media will be awash with stories detailing how 6 year olds have gone home in tears because they read a word wrong, how teachers have been found teaching to the test (again) and how reading has become nothing more than an exercise in decoding.

    Schools did not ask for the test as they have already been checking reading at every age. This test is a complete waste of taxpayers money and serves no purpose but to give the government another stick to beat the teaching profession with.

    • teachingbattleground says:

      Nope. Phonics denialism is rejecting, not simply the proposed tests, but the scientific evidence on phonics. Obviously, there is another argument to be had about the tests, but discussing the tests with phonics denialists is pointless. They don’t simply disagree with the tests as a method of ensuring phonics is taught properly, but with teaching phonics properly in the first place.

      That said the continuing influence of phonics denialists within teaching and within the education establishment does suggest an urgent need to test what children are actually learning. As someone who was initially sceptical about these tests, the resulting debate has, at the very least, convinced me that something needs to be done about phonics denialism in primary schools.

  9. teachingbattleground says:

    “OP and Prof Dombey are making claims for the effectiveness of a balanced approach, are you saying that these claims are “simply not true”?”

    I don’t think i could have made it much clearer. Both the OP and Henrietta Dombey are claiming that there are studies that make the case against phonics (or to use the denialist terminology “in favour of a balanced approach”) which are “authoritative” or “reputable” respectively, but which they have both curiously failed to identify.

    I think “authoritative” is an objective enough term for the claim to be best described as an outright lie. “Reputable” is more a matter of interpretation – reputable to a denialist does not necessarily imply a high academic standard – but when one actually uses the title “prof” in a letter making a claim of this sort then I think the intention is to suggest that the studies are of a reasonable academic quality. So, yes, I do think we are dealing with claims that are somewhere in the territory between “blatantly misleading” and “outrageously fraudulent”.

    But then I think it has been fairly obvious that this is what I have been saying all along. Is there a purpose to all the extra questioning and the attempts to shift the burden of proof other than to distract attention away from the fact that none of you have yet identified any anti-phonics studies at all (something which I could do easily) and certainly not authoritative or reputable ones (something which I don’t think anyone could do)?

    • Ann Kittenplan says:

      @tb Thank you for your patience.

      The reason for the questions is that some of the claims you make are very strong. Some of what you say needs saying and I find myself in strong agreement, so when you write something which seems to me clearly and demonstrably wrong I am trying to make sure I understand correctly.

      To the matter at hand. If I am understanding correctly:

      1) OP’s:

      “Authoritative studies have shown the superiority of a balanced approach which includes not only phonic decoding and sight recognition of words which are not phonically regular but also, and of great importance, the syntactical and semantic clues which help children to attach meaning to the symbols put before them.”

      is still asserted to be a lie. So your position is that the OP is lying?

      2) Professor Dombey’s very similar:

      “Reputable studies published in journals on both sides of the Atlantic have shown the superiority of a balanced approach, paying attention to both the mechanics of word recognition and to the construction of meaning.”

      is “somewhere in the territory between “blatantly misleading” and “outrageously fraudulent”.”

      So your position is Professor Dombey is at least “blatantly misleading” and possibly even “outrageously fraudulent”.

      Is that the case?

      3) If I understand correctly you further state that a “balanced approach” is not in fact what you would call a balanced approach at all but outright denialism.

      I will come off the fence at this point and say that I can’t agree. The full context of what the OP and Professor Dombey say seem to make clear that the approach *includes phonics* but for balance “syntactical and semantic clues” (OP) or “paying attention to both the mechanics of word recognition and to the construction of meaning” (the Prof).

      In short you are equating pro-balance with anti-phonics this I don’t see as a sustainable position.

      If OTOH someone was *purely* anti-phonics then AIUI this *would* be flying in the face of the evidence. I just don’t think that OP or Prof D have taken that position.

      • teachingbattleground says:

        You seem to be writing long essays analysing everything I say, in the context of tiny fragments of things said by phonics denialists rather than in the context of the entire argument. This seems pointless when my position can be pretty much summed up as “show us the studies or we’ll know you’re lying”. Anything other than finding those studies looks like a debating tactic.

        Do you think that continually asking me to repeat myself is going to confuse people to the point where nobody notices that it is the citing of apparently non-existent studies that is at issue? Do you think that pretending you were ever “on the fence” is going to make people think that the “strong claims” are mine rather than those who claim studies exist but cannot identify them? Do you think that taking the apparent lies out of the context of the anti-phonics arguments in which they appeared, and then reinterpreting them into something less blatantly wrong, is going to move on the discussion?

        If you want to redefine false claims into something less clearly untrue, then you will still have to deal with the problem that once redefined they no longer provide an argument. Either the OP’s “balanced approach” is a rejection of early phonics or it is no argument against testing phonics skills early. Either Henrietta Dombey’s “balanced approach” is not conventional synthetic phonics or it cannot be “superior” to it. Put the claims in the context in which they were made and they can only be interpreted as being about research vindicating alternatives to systematic phonics, and, as such, they can be identified as untrue.

        Now can you please identify the studies mentioned in those claims or accept that, understood in the context they appeared rather than reinterpreted for the sake of argument, the statements are not correct?

  10. John Norman says:

    The original article seems very clear: [i]Teachers working with children in the all important [b]earliest[/b] years now face a major challenge. Do they allow the test to dominate their teaching or will they continue with a sensible and balanced approach to phonics teaching? Authoritative studies have shown the superiority of a balanced approach which includes not only phonic decoding and sight recognition of words which are not phonically regular but also, and of great importance, the syntactical and semantic clues which help children to attach meaning to the symbols put before them.[/i]

    Now I’m a mere parent and taxpayer, so I realise that I’m pretty low on the food chain. The teachers that I’ve spoken to say that the teaching of reading in Year 1 is indeed primarily focused on decoding, before moving on to more complex interpretation of the written word in Years 2 and 3. But that’s just one school. Maybe they’re wrong! Please humour me and give me a few links to some of these studies that show that more balance is needed even in Year 1. The last thing I want is for my children not to be able to read properly.

    • Ann Kittenplan says:

      These are Professor Dombey’s contact details

      http://www.brighton.ac.uk/education/contact/details.php?uid=hd5

      I imagine she’d be happy to help.

    • Ann Kittenplan says:

      I can’t see a Reply button to tb’s 1:04 post so this post may well be out of sequence.

      1. Far from analysing “everything” you say I picked on one point I found particularly contentious and tried to clarify that.

      2. My best attempts at being precise and not using generalisations or child’s-play-to-dismantle categorical statements comes at the expense of some additional length in my posts.

      3. I am not asking you to repeat yourself, just to clarify that I have understood very contentious statements including accusations of lying and assertions that a Professor is “blatantly misleading” at best and possibly even being “outrageously fraudulent”.

      If I have understood then there will be repetition if I have not then there won’t. If you are repeating yourself then I’m doing a good job of understanding 🙂

      (I note in passing that you have not answered either of the questions about OP and Prof D directly.)

      4. Re attempts to “confuse people”, frankly I’d be amazed if anyone besides you or me is reading this correspondence.

      5. As for finding the studies which you regard as the crux of the matter: the studies were cited by a Professor using almost identical language to the OP. This wasn’t good enough. The Professor was apparently also engaged in some sort of deception. With OP lying and Prof D deceiving even if studies were unearthed I wonder at the chances that interpretations that their content will be agreed upon. But I’m getting ahead of myself there.

      6. Which false claims have been redefined into something less clearly untrue? It seems clear OP and Prof D are advocating balance *including* phonics. You are attacking them for being “denialists”. I think this is demonstrably a clear mistake, and for me this is the crux of the issue.

      The Either/Or in your para 3 seems to be a false dichotomy. OP and Prof D are advocating not synthetic phonics *alone* but SP plus other approaches. AIUI it is this that they claim to be superior. Are you saying that SP has to be delivered in a pure form?

      The context you assert is missing is, I believe, here:

      “Teachers working with children in the all important earliest years now face a major challenge. Do they allow the test to dominate their teaching or will they continue with a sensible and balanced approach to phonics teaching? Authoritative studies have shown the superiority of a balanced approach which includes not only phonic decoding and sight recognition of words which are not phonically regular but also, and of great importance, the syntactical and semantic clues which help children to attach meaning to the symbols put before them.”

      7. As for the studies themselves: I’m backing Prof D to come up with something. It’s Easter but let’s see…

      • teachingbattleground says:

        Is there a new argument in there somewhere? You seem to have just repeated all the same points again that I just replied to.

        I think it’s time you found the studies or stopped time-wasting.

      • Ann Kittenplan says:

        @tb again (no Reply)

        As you are demonstrably not reading what I write I’ll distil it:

        I landed here by accident, saw an accusation of lying, found, in about two minutes, what I consider to be a rebuttal ie an expert witness (hear)saying it’s not a lie. That’s good enough for me. It’s not good enough for you.

        The Prof may turn up the studies. I’ve asked. She may not, but I think it’s pretty clear that OP wasn’t lying.

        I imagine you will maintain your initial position that OP was lying and that Prof D was ‘somewhere in the territory between “blatantly misleading” and “outrageously fraudulent”.’

        For the record there are many further objections including an ongoing series of unanswered questions, demonstrably incorrect assertions, goalpost-moving, and bizarre redefinitions (balance) but the essence is: I think OP and Prof D are not lying. Till Prof D turns up the studies I’ll have to take that on trust. I’m happy to do that.

        If and when the studies turn up…I peer into my crystal ball, and, as the mists clear, I see…tb asserting that the studies are not reputable or authoritative (he has previous, guv) and that balance is not balance.

        Into the crystal ball and through the looking glass.

      • teachingbattleground says:

        Right, so your essays actually boil down to:

        1) the claim that a Professor of education cannot be wrong or say something untrue about evidence;

        2) the claim that anybody who makes a claim that is similar to that made by a professor of education, even if they are unable to support it with any evidence or argument, cannot by lying;

        3) the idea that given 1) and 2) one should not change one’s mind simply because of a manifest and ongoing lack of evidence for a claim?

        Is that where your argument now stands?

      • Ann Kittenplan says:

        @tb Nope. And I trust that’s clear to the discerning reader. In the unlikely event that anyone is interested I can provide clarification upon request 🙂

  11. It is essential in matters of discussing the teaching of reading to describe very clearly the details of what is meant.

    The official ‘model’ in the UK for understanding the main elements involved with reading is the Simple View of Reading (Gough and Tunmer 1986 – and recommended by Rose in his review, Final Report 2006). I have found this to be an excellent model to distinguish between the need for readers to be able to deal with ‘words’ in terms of ‘what is the word’ and that readers will generally be able to understand the word that they have decoded according to their oral (language) comprehension.

    Thus, if a reader sees the word ‘boat’ and can say (or think) /boat/ and knows what a boat is, then the main processes in the Simple View of Reading are addressed. If a reader cannot read ‘boat’ the teacher needs to address this. If the reader does not know what a ‘boat’ is, then the teacher needs to address this.

    The Simple View of Reading helps very much by its four quadrants which broadly speaking help the teacher to understand the reading profile or a learner. It is also a helpful model for thinking about why a learner broadly fits a profile – for example, a very beginner can be poor at ‘word recognition’ but good at ‘comprehension’ – but a learner for whom English is a new language could be good at ‘word recognition’ but a poor comprehender in the English language – but good in the mother tongue – and so on.

    It is true that we are all individuals and that we have all learnt to read through different routes – and, indeed, may even ‘see’ words differently. In other words, as adults and readers, we have our own reading profiles.

    One issue for the teaching profession is that the vast majority of teachers did not receive the kind of systematic, synthetic phonics teaching that is now advocated and yet this group of adults falls into the category of literate, proficient readers and spellers – although some people in the teaching profession describe that they are ‘dyslexic’ and have difficulties perhaps with spelling.

    However, seeing as nearly everyone in the teaching profession has not been trained in the understanding of a comprehensive English ‘alphabetic code’, nor been trained to teach or mark for spelling – no wonder there are such low levels of spelling in English-speaking countries!

    Anyway, the adoption of the Simple View of Reading helps synthetic phonics advocates, like me, to easily demonstrate that we already understand about a balanced approach to teaching reading when what is meant by this is the understanding and importance of oral (language) comprehension as well as the importance of readers being able to lift the words off the pages! This includes when words are embedded within sentences and texts – in other words in generally meaningful contexts – or whether those words are in lists – such as one might find on a shopping list in ‘real life’.

    The research shows the importance of teaching the English alphabetic code and the skill of all-through-the-word blending as a much more accurate, efficient and quick way of readers lifting the words off the page. It also shows that when readers can become habitual ‘word guesses’ when they are taught to guess the words from picture cues, context cues, initial letter cues and ‘thinking what would make sense’. This is a very inadvisable ‘range of reading strategies’ to teach to children – or to force children to use through requiring them to read their reading books INDEPENDENTLY when, in fact, they are not equipped with the knowledge of the alphabetic code of the words in the book – so they have to resort to much guessing.

    This approach fails children in the longer term – and I suggest it leads to failure in many cases later than is fully apparent in the infant years – because more challenging vocabulary that is not within the readers’ oral vocabulary, nor that is within the knowledge of alphabetic code, results in masses of ‘word skipping’. Ironically, such readers may well gain the gist of the text, or give that impression – especially when the readers have general good common sense and deductive skills. The danger is that they are not accurate and careful readers (or spellers) and that, as individuals, they may start to feel themselves struggling and perceive that therefore they are not as intelligent as their peers and they may become disaffected with education based on their reading (and writing) struggles. I believe that this is not generally understood by the teaching profession – and by this stage infant teachers will not consider taking the responsibility for their methods of early reading instruction.

    But, where the ‘balance’ for reading instruction suggests that teachers should teach whole word recognition routinely, and guessing words from picture cues, context and initial letter cues, this is not a healthy balance – but it is the prevailing and traditional method for early reading instruction and the method in England which Sheffield Hallam University revealed in the review of the phonics screening check pilot. Nearly three-quarters of the teachers involved in the pilot described this type of ‘balance’ as their overarching understanding for teaching children to read.

    This ‘multicueing’ method was described by a very important person in the field of literacy, Marilyn Jager Adams. Everywhere this lady went she saw teachers using this multicueing model – and she could not understand it as she said there was nothing in the research on reading to recommend this model. Other famous and important researchers, such as Stanovich, set about research with a personal belief that context cueing would prove to be an important element in the reading process – but found to the contrary that it was the weakest readers who tried to read through context guessing – not the proficient readers (who have no need to call upon guessing strategies to decode the words on the page).

    I am suggesting, therefore, that there should of course be ‘balance’ in the classroom where this means children are taught to read well through a phonics route (it is shocking that our country abandoned teaching the alphabetic code and the associated decoding and encoding skills) – and their language comprehension is of course enriched through speaking and listening and being steeped in a literacy-rich environment. That is the balance.

    But it is not acceptable for the teaching profession to press ahead with their personal experiences and beliefs about reading instruction when these are not backed up by research.

    Finally, in terms of the phonics screening check and the government’s promotion of it:

    It is absolutely right that the GOVERNMENT discovers whether the method it promotes makes a difference to reading standards. It is surely right that the TEACHING PROFESSION understands the research and importance of phonics teaching and is curious and concerned to know what effect the teaching is having on reading standards.

    It is not challenging to children who will be reading hundreds of cumulative words (and, no doubt, other words) in their normal, daily practice.

    If anyone talks in terms of children being told, or understanding, that they are ‘failures’, then is shame on the adults concerned in the screening.

    That all those professional bodies are crying out about a government wishing to ascertain effectiveness on its recommended reading instruction method via simple national screening considering the appalling and notorious high percentage of illiteracy and weak literacy in English-speaking countries beggars belief.

    This is life-chance stuff for those children.

    • Ann Kittenplan says:

      There’s a lot here. IM(H)O most of it is sensible, sensitive, and informative. Can’t respond at length (phew!) but I would raise the question: Why are 17 professional associations against the testing.? Are they anti-change, anti-progress, anti-child? Maybe some are. OTOH is it bc in practice the assessments will be SATs at 6 and teachers will feel compelled to abandon the broader, dare I say balanced, curriculum and focus more and more on SP.

      Literacy as measured by the test will go up. Education as measured by…nothing will go down.

      If there is a literacy problem there has to be a better solution than this. I wonder if there’s anything positive proposed by the 17 associations.

  12. Chipperfield says:

    I think there is a misplaced fear about this simple screen. It is a diagnostic test, so pass or fail does not come into it. The screen will inform parents and teachers whether or not a child age 6 can or can not decode single syllable words using letter/sound correspondences they should have been taught during the previous months at school. If they cannot decode unknown words, real or otherwise, then they have made a very poor start in learnng how to
    handle the English alphabetic code, and the sooner those concerned know this the better .

    • Ann Kittenplan says:

      Isn’t there a close analogy with SATs? You could apply the same argument there.

      My own children were *very* fortunate to go to a primary school which supported the teachers, maintained the broader curriculum, and trusted that if they took that approach the SATs would take care of themselves. This takes a confident and very supportive leader.

      AIUI the vast majority of schools teach to the test at the expense of a broader education. It seems likely that, with the distant prospect of inspections and jobs on the line, the same will happen in this case, and 5 and 6 yos will be taught to the test.

      I really wouldn’t want my children in that environment. It seems soul-destroying.

      One scenario has kids taught to the test and great at SP but with enjoyment and enthusiasm drilled out of them. The other has kids poor at literacy, and nothing else assessed. Neither looks great.

      As above I wonder what the alternatives are.

      • MaizieD says:

        A third scenario has kids having normal structured synthetic phonics teaching and doing absolutely fine in the check. SP teaching does not preclude any other sort of literacy activities.

      • Ann Kittenplan says:

        As I see it in practice once you start testing and publishing the results, then the threats of failure and inspections loom. I’ve seen very good teachers become nervous wrecks when they are being assessed. Ultimately, however wrongly, many staff feel their jobs are on the line. The whole situation becomes pressured for everyone, children included. You get teaching to the test and the rest of the curriculum is sidelined, or even abandoned, especially as the test gets nearer.

        This doesn’t happen everywhere all the time, as I said my children’s school basically had confidence in the teachers, and kept the broad curriculum, but their head was exceptional.

        Scenario three is ideal but, given what’s at stake for the people involved, what is more likely teaching to the test or a breezy confidence in your own abilities and maintaining the broader curriculum?

        I’ve seen schools basically turned into SATs factories, sometimes for several weeks. The published results keep everyone’s head above water year on year but it’s not really education.