The government has announced plans to introduce a phonics progress test in all schools throughout England for children in Year 1. A pilot will take place in 2011, with the aim of rolling it out nationally in the summer of 2012.
The purpose will be to identify those children who have gaps in their knowledge of letter-sounds and difficulties with blending them to read words. It will therefore enable the school to target those in need of extra support.
The proposed test will include ‘non-words’ so that children will have to decode the word to read it, rather than relying on their visual memory of known whole words or using clues such as pictures or context to guess the words.
Inevitably, this has already led to criticism from anti-phonics lobbyists, who believe that phonics should be taught alongside other methods, rather than on its own - they argue that it will not test other reading skills such as overall vocabulary or comprehension of what they are reading.
Yes – these critics are correct – it will only test whether the child has reached the required level of phonics decoding – that is the point. Once children can decode properly with phonics early on, they can then move on to higher order reading skills.
Currently, one in six 7-year-olds and one in five 11-year-olds still fail to reach the standard expected of them in reading. Some time ago I read this analogy that sums this up very well:
‘There is an education bus and it stops to pick up passengers all the way to Year Three. After this, the bus accelerates and it gets much more difficult to get on. Unfortunately, many children never manage to get a seat on this bus and get left behind, unable to access the school curriculum properly.’
I think this new test could be an important bus stop to help make sure all our young children get a seat on that bus.