Official government figures published last week show that white boys from disadvantaged backgrounds are lagging behind their peers in terms of their literacy skills and are underachieving significantly, even at the earliest stages of education.
When the results from this year’s phonics screening test for six-year-olds was categorised by free school meal (FSM) entitlement, ethnicity and gender, white boys on FSM were found to be the lowest attaining group, with just 62% of pupils meeting the expected standards.
Looking at the whole picture, 82% of six-year-olds are up to the required standards this year, a 1% increase on last year’s figures. The highest performing group were Chinese girls not entitled to FSMs, reports The Guardian.
The phonics screening involves children reading 40 set words out loud, of which half are nonsense, with scores of 32 words or above considered a pass. Pupils who fail the test resit it at the end of year 2, by which time over nine in ten (92%) met the standard.
Assessing the data, it was also uncovered that less than half (44%) of pupils with special educational needs (SEN) passed the test. This compares to 89% of pupils without SEN.
In the wake of this research, the DfE released provisional results for key stage one teacher assessments that showed a drop in the number of six- and seven-year-olds meeting the expected standard in reading, from 76% in 2017 to 75% this year. Meanwhile, the opposite was true for maths, with 76% of pupils passing this year.
According to the government, the phonics results demonstrate how 163,000 more pupils were on track to become fluent readers than in 2012, when the test was launched.
Yet, many teachers and parents condemn the use of the test. A total 85% of heads polled by researchers at Newman University and Leeds Beckett University said the test should not be compulsory, and over six in ten (65%) teachers want it to be scrapped.
Wendy Scott, of primary assessment campaign group More Than A Score, commented: “Heads, teachers and parents agree: the phonics check is a waste of extremely valuable teaching time. Rather than learning to love reading, five and six-year-olds are spending months being drilled in nonsense words just so they can be tested.”
Countering Ms Scott’s point, school standards minister Nick Gibb hailed the phonics test “a huge achievement” which improves the lives and education of thousands of children. “[But] we remain determined to make sure that not just most children, but every single child, is able to meet his or her potential,” he added.
What’s your opinion of the UK phonics test?