As the Department for Education considers adding more tests to their list, it is perhaps time to consider whether the current ones have any value. My vote would be to scrap the Year 1 phonics screening. If ever there was a time-consuming waste of effort, it is this. Forty random words on flashcards with a mixture of real and made-up words are shown to each child and they get one point for every word they say correctly. Huge secrecy surrounds the words until you sit down with the child and here the fun begins. The words are given to you in Times Roman font which means g and a appear differently from the way they are written or seen in most child-friendly print. You can retype the words but you don’t get them until the day testing begins and by then the clock is ticking. So despite best intentions this is unlikely to happen.
The g is particularly problematic when a lot of your children do not a g in their home language (Somali). Then there is the isolation of the words. Children try to make sense of what they read. They should do. Learning words in isolation will lead to them to reading but only making sense of it makes them truly a Reader. So they have to fight the urge to make words real when they are not. So ot is often read as to. Yes there are pictures to show they are not real but frankly it does not make sense!
Then there are the real words. If you are going to include words and say they are real they also need to be recognisable, as in “oh yes, that says ridiculous“. One year a real word was fuel. Not a common word for most 6 or 7 year olds unless a parent works for BP. It doesn’t crop up much in stories or fact books. The only time most of them may have heard the word is in Good King Wenslas when he gathers winter fuel, and who get the words right in songs if they are not familiar (ever heard the carol words “no crisps for a bed”)? So back to fuel. This is a tricky word in my book. ue is taught as oo as in blue and clue and yoo as in statue or continue . Which makes this fool if you pick the wrong one …. and wrong.
Then there is the pass mark. The first couple of years they published the pass mark ahead of testing: 32 out of 40. Then Gove decreed they would only tell us the mark when the results are in. This suggests two things. Either he had a result in mind and was fixing the mark, or he didn’t trust teachers to administer the test properly if he told them. Both ideas show the state of trust between the then Minister and the profession he was supposed to support.
Finally, what does this test tell us? It tells the teacher absolutely nothing that they don’t already know from their own assessments. It tells the Government exactly what they want to hear.
For more information about phonics and reading go to www.readingriddle.co.uk