Why ‘good’ readers might have performed poorly on the Year 1 Phonics Check

If threads on Mumsnet and TES are anything to go by, there appear to have been significant numbers of children with above average reading ability who did not reach the required standard on the phonics check (correctly reading 32 out of a possible 40 words).

So should parents be concerned if their child did not perform in the check as well as they were expected to, based on their current reading levels?

One of the aspects of the check that has caused a lot of debate has been the use of ‘pseudo’ or ‘alien’ words.

It appears that some able readers could decode the words but got confused when it was a word they’d never heard of. If they did not recognise it as a ‘real’ word, they changed it to something recognisable. Even if they had decoded the word correctly (e.g. ‘strom’) but then changed it to a real word (‘storm’), their final answer had to be taken and teachers were not allowed to give any help with this.

Some children will have been used to reading these pseudo words prior to the test (some phonics schemes routinely use them) and all children should have been made aware exactly which words in the test were real and which were not – maybe some teachers administering the check did not make this clear enough.

Setting this issue aside, there are more important reasons for a lower than expected performance.

  • Firstly if the child has poor phonic decoding skills and is reliant on whole word and context strategies, they would probably not have performed well on the check. This can lead to literacy problems later on, so it is useful to have it highlighted so it does not lead to future difficulties.
  • Secondly, if the child is not reading accurately, they may be flying through books, getting the general gist of the text but missing or guessing words as they go along. This may not present itself as a problem – particularly if the child reads silently – but as the texts get more challenging in Key Stage 2, this can become a problem. The habit of glossing over words is quite difficult to break once it has become entrenched, so again it is useful to highlight the problem of inaccurate reading now.

If a child is strong at writing and spelling, poor performance on the phonics reading check may be no real cause for concern. If a child has performed poorly on the check and their writing ability is not matched to perceived reading ability, it is likely that the check has highlighted a problem that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. This will enable the school to provide additional phonics support in the coming year.

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Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) – information for parents

The Early Years Foundation Stage is the time in your child’s life between birth and age 5.

This is an important stage as it helps your child get ready for school as well as preparing them for their future learning and successes.

Nurseries, pre-schools, reception classes and childminders registered to deliver the EYFS must follow a legal document called the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework. This sets the standards that all early years providers must meet to ensure that children learn and develop well and are kept healthy and safe.

The framework sets out:

  • The legal welfare requirements that everyone registered to look after children must follow to keep your child safe and promote their welfare
  • The 7 areas of learning and development which guide professionals’ engagement with your child’s play and activities as they learn new skills and knowledge
  • Assessments that will tell you about your child’s progress through the EYFS
  • Expected levels that your child should reach at age 5, usually the end of the reception year; these expectations are called the Early Learning Goals (ELGs)”

There is also guidance for the professionals supporting your child on planning the learning activities, and observing and assessing what and how your child is learning and developing.

The seven areas of learning and development are:

  • Communication and language development involves giving children opportunities to experience a rich language environment; to develop their confidence and skills in expressing themselves; and to speak and listen in a range of situations.
  • Physical development involves providing opportunities for young children to be active and interactive; and to develop their co-ordination, control, and movement. Children must also be helped to understand the importance of physical activity, and to make healthy choices in relation to food.
  • Personal, social and emotional developmentinvolves helping children to develop a positive sense of themselves, and others; to form positive relationships and develop respect for others; to develop social skills and learn how to manage their feelings; to understand appropriate behaviour in groups; and to have confidence in their own abilities.
  • Literacy development involves encouraging children to link sounds and letters and to begin to read and write. Children must be given access to a wide range of reading materials (books, poems, and other written materials) to ignite their interest.
  • Mathematics involves providing children with opportunities to develop and improve their skills in counting, understanding and using numbers, calculating simple addition and subtraction problems; and to describe shapes, spaces, and measures.
  • Understanding the world involves guiding children to make sense of their physical world and their community through opportunities to explore, observe and find out about people, places, technology and the environment.
  • Expressive arts and design involves enabling children to explore and play with a wide range of media and materials, as well as providing opportunities and encouragement for sharing their thoughts, ideas and feelings through a variety of activities in art, music, movement, dance, roleplay, and design and technology.

Assessment

If your child attends an Early Years setting, they will have a Progress Check between the age of two and three. This will identify their strengths and any area where progress is less than expected and where additional support may be needed.

All children are assessed at the end of the Early Years Foundation stage (in the summer term of their reception year). This assessment is called the EYFS Profile and gives a full picture of a child’s knowledge, understanding and abilities, their progress against expected levels, and their readiness for Year 1.

For more information on the EYFS and how you can help your child at home in supporting their learning and development, visit the Foundation Years website.

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English Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling Test (Key Stage 2)

The Department for Education has announced a new English grammar, punctuation and spelling test for pupils in Year Six. From 2013, the statutory test will replace the current English writing test that forms part of the National curriculum tests taken at the end of Key Stage 2.

Changes will also be made to GCSEs, so that from 2013 there will be marks awarded for spelling, punctuation and grammar in key subjects.

The new Key Stage 2 test will assess:

* vocabulary
* sentence-grammar
* spelling
* punctuation
(handwriting may also be included – this will be determined later in the year following trials)

One thing that seems to be apparent from the sample questions is that children will be required to know a lot of grammatical terms to enable them to do well in the test (adverb, subordinate clause, suffix, active v passive voice etc.).

The National Association for the Teaching of English has said that a revised focus on spelling, grammar and punctuation will “impoverish” teaching and turn pupils off the subject, claiming that grammar is best taught in context rather than through formal exercises. This is an argument that will surely be supported by others, as the question of whether formal grammar is an effective way of teaching children to write is a longstanding debate.

The new test reflects the Government’s beliefs that ‘children should have mastered these important aspects of English by the time they leave primary school, and that appropriate recognition should be given to good use of English throughout their schooling’.

Earlier this year a CBI survey of more than 500 firms showed that 42% were dissatisfied with school leavers’ use of English and 12% of employers provided remedial literacy training for graduates. Hopefully this new test in its final format can provide the basis for addressing these weaknesses.

Examples of the format of test questions can be found here

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