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Pheeling the phonics phrenzy

This week has seen many a Year 1 child taking a ‘Phonics Screening Check’ at school. The ‘check’*comprised of 40 words which the children were asked to read/decode. Half of the words were ‘real’ whilst the other half were ‘pseudo’. Why? So that the children’s knowledge and understanding of phonics could be checked. Many children can have a good go at guessing words from initial sounds or a recognised letter pattern, with pseudo words children have to draw on their decoding skills only.

There have been many arguments against this process since its unveiling. I have mixed feelings about it. My concerns are not really about the check itself or the fact that the data is sent to your local authority. Those who argue that this is too young to ‘fail’ our children need to remember that data from the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) is also submitted and the children are a year younger. I don’t believe that it fails our children. Poor teaching and ridiculous legislation created by people who live in a bubble far away from the chalk-face fails our children. The upside of this process (and we should look for one as it’s likely to stick around for a while) is that it provides focus for those schools who may be struggling to help their children learn to read. I know that phonics alone isn’t the answer, but the reality is it is part of the primary curriculum. And as such, I’d rather teach it successfully than badly.

My main concern about the screening is that someone without teaching experience will pull out a large calculator and set unrealistic targets for our children’s future reading levels. Being able to decode phonics alone does not make you a reader. A true reader is someone who can digest the text (and illustrations) that they are presented with. They form and justify personal opinions based upon what they have read. That’s a reader. Barking at nonsensical letter strings does not a reader make!

*That’s right, the government are not referring to it as a test. Clever heh?!


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