ATL, NAHT and NUT say: Phonics checks are an expensive way to tell schools what they already know
Monday 18 June 2012
Or, Snemp osk vap! Jound spron geck blan fape, as the Government would say.
The government’s new phonics screening checks for six year olds will add little value to most schools and do nothing to help children learn to read, say the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the National Union of Teachers (NUT).
The three unions are urging the government to think again about its prescription of flawed phonics checks which will use made-up words to check children’s reading. Or Snemp osk vap! Jound spron geck blan fape. Voo terg bim thazz, as the Government might say.
The unions argue that these phonics checks will not let parents know how well their children are learning to read, will not assess whether a child can understand the words they are reading, or provide the majority of teachers with any information about children’s reading ability they did not already know. Yet every school is being forced to implement this time-consuming test.
In addition, the use of made-up words will confuse children for whom English is a second language and those with special educational needs, say the unions, as well as frustrating those who can read already.
Setting arbitrary benchmarks for children benefits no one and risks making the majority of six year olds feel like failures. In the pilot study, only 32% of six year olds who took part reached the expected level. At this stage, tests should be used for diagnosis of reading problems and planning, not judgements about schools and teachers.
There are already enormous pressures on teachers to teach to the test, so how long will it be before children are being taught to read made up words?
ATL, NAHT and NUT do not object to the use of phonics, they are an essential tool for early literacy, provided the government does not insist they are the only method that should be used to teach children how to read.
ATL, the NAHT and NUT have written to MPs to outline their concerns about the phonics checks. They are warning the government that schools may refuse to take part in the 2013 checks if the government misuses the data from this year’s checks or makes false claims about its validity. Instead the unions will produce their own measures to check children’s reading and report the results from these to parents.
ATL general secretary, Dr Mary Bousted, said: “Once again the government is totally failing to understand how children learn. Phonics should not be the only game in town; it is just one of many equally valid and useful methods of teaching children how to read. Phonics checks for six year olds risk doing more damage than good. The government should come clean with parents so that they know the test results will tell them nothing about their child’s reading ability or their school’s ability to teach reading.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said: “Despite claiming to empower schools, the government is imposing a narrow test which will actually provide less information than the procedures schools are already using. Phonics is an essential part of early literacy, but this approach risks distorting teaching and reduces freedom."
Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said: “Synthetic phonics is one way of teaching reading but it is not the only one. The clear message being given by professionals to the Government is that they want the freedom to adopt whatever method best suits their children and not be pushed down a one-size-fits-all route. That approach would most certainly be failing our children and young people.”