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Education, Education policies, Teachers' Own Words, UK Schools

Passing and Failing 4-5 year olds, by Jennie Harper

Year 1 Phonics Screening check

Background

In England, the government introduced the Year 1 Phonics screening test in June last year.

• It is an unseen paper, it is administered by the class teacher individually.

• The children have to read 40 words, 20 of which are non words. Last year’s pass mark was 32.

• The results are put on Raise Online and are available to the LEA and Ofsted alongside the KS1 and KS2 SATs results. Poor results can trigger an Ofsted.

• In the pilot 34% of children passed.

These words especially on part 2 of the test are at the level of difficulty you would find in a level 2 reading book. However, Year 2 children who score a Level 2 in the SATs reading test are not expected to read these words out of context.

pass failIf they pass they get just that, a pass, whether by 1 word or by being completely correct. Similarly if they are one word under they get the word fail and that’s it. No level, no support to make further progress just that one word fail.

This is not a reading test, it is a test of decoding. It is not about confidence as a reader, about fluency or comprehension. All the strategies that you use as a fluent reader are not being tested.

All children have to do this test. And if they fail it the first time they get to repeat it in year 2 – double the humiliation because then they will have had a year of stressed parents and probably teachers too trying to get them to achieve what just may be impossible.

What we do about phonics.

We do a well known scheme sold by one of the advisors on the test. We used our matched funding and spent £12,000 on resources to start. Now each year most of the English budget will be spent on consumable resources that we will continue to need to buy.

As for the scheme we are using if I say give yourselves a lorry driver….or an elvis…..maybe that would help?

Pros

Some children respond very well to it and they develop decoding skills they may not if we didn’t do it.

The pace is fast and some of the activities are fun.

The children do love the praise and encouragement aspects.

The structure of the scheme shows children the progress they are making.

Our Teacher Aides now feel very involved in the teaching and learning during these sessions.

Cons

We now stream children from the first term in Reception.

Most of our English time is now spent on this as we do it 4 days a week.

The children are assessed every 6 weeks purely on their phonics decoding skills and graded according to that. If they struggle with comprehension they struggle every day as the comprehension skills are assumed to be at a similar level.

The children can also struggle with writing which again is assumed to be at the same level at their decoding skills. In my group I have children who can identify and blend sounds and read many simple words but cannot write cvc words confidently. They are writing streams of letters and feeling failure every day.

The amount of time spent assessing and managing the scheme takes a great deal of my year group leader time.

My experiences with the test.

I spent two full days out of my class doing these tests. Some children coped very well and some enjoyed the 1-1 time with me. Others did not fair so well.

One child told me her mother told her she would be happy if she passed the test and would buy her a present. Her mum would be sad if she failed the test.

I could have told her mum she was going to be sad before her child came into the room and started shaking.

One child spent 10 minutes talking about how much he loved aliens and what he would say to the aliens if he met them before he started the test. He failed. I felt that the test was set up for the children to fail. They went straight in with alien words, not even starting with real words to allow the children to feel success from the start. The ‘real’ words included ‘jazz’ and ‘lords’ which do not appear in many 5 year olds’ reading books, so most children did not recognise them. Even the early stage 1 words were not simple well known words at all.

The advice that came with the tests states that you should say the alien words are the aliens’ names, I would not do that as none of the words started with a capital letter which would make my more able children even more confused.

Oh and yes my more able readers did indeed try to make real words out of the alien words. Strom became storm for most of my children.

We had around a 60% pass rate and we were pleased about that for the children’s sake. We were not observed by our LA who had to monitor a percentage of schools. That is probably a good thing as I passed a couple of children with speech impediments they probably would have made me fail as the advice on SEN is typically vague.

I hated the process of writing the letter that, however we tried to make it sound positive, included the names of 5 and 6 year old children and the word fail.

We then had a meeting with some very confused and upset parents and tried to reassure them that the world had not ended and their children were not stupid.

What next?

This year the 40% of our year 2s that failed will be retaking the test.

Our 6 year 1 classes will be taking the test.

4 new year 1 teachers will be trained on how to carry out the test.

5 year 2 teachers will need to be trained on how to carry out the test.

We will need to have 3 supply teachers in every day for a week plus one day the next week to catch up on those that are absent.

Although we are a classed as a good school, a neighbouring school is about to become an academy, so any weak link…..our results matter….the pressure is on.

We have a bulge class of 30 children 24 of them had never attended school before they joined us in October this year…we have now been told we cannot separate their results… we are vulnerable.

by Jennie Harper, Teacher, UK

About Save Our Schools NZ

"One needs to be slow to form convictions, but once formed they must be defended against the heaviest odds." Gandhi

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