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Phonics check risks distorting learning, says NAHT

This week children in year 1 will undertake the phonics check to assess their progress in reading. Commenting, Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT says “we wish all pupils, teachers and school leaders involved in the phonics check well this week.

“It is important that teachers assess young readers so they know how best to support each child, and plan for their next steps in learning. This is a natural part of the learning process. However, when a high-stakes test is used to drive behaviour, as in the case of the phonics check, we have to question whether the results have any diagnostic value. We can learn very little from statutory tests.

“NAHT’s vision for primary assessment is a clear focus on progress, measured from reception to the end of key stage 2. Everything in between must allow schools to support learning, and we must see an end to high stakes SATs tests at key stage 1. The government has worked constructively with school leaders on the primary assessment consultation which recognises the need for this shift. We must build on this and address the plethora of unnecessary tests in our primary system that risk narrowing the curriculum for all pupils.” 

James Bowen, director of middle leaders’ union NAHT Edge, says “middle leaders are clear that statutory testing distorts teaching. Unfortunately this has been a characteristic within primary teaching in recent years, from phonics through to grammar tests in Year 6. No one would argue that children should not have a good grasp of phonics and or a good understanding of grammar; the question is whether statutory testing is the best way to assess this. Rather than focus on high stakes tests, we must trust professionals to use continual, low-level assessments to reinforce learning.

“The government has shown a more open approach to discussing primary assessment in recent months, and the changes needed. The phonics screening check is a poor use of staff time and reduces the amount of quality teaching time that other pupils in the class receive whilst not being tested. This is why it needs to be an optional component for schools.”

First published 15 December 2017