We all do phonics now

An understanding of the place of phonics in early teaching seems to have become accepted practice among teachers. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/phonics-screening-check-and-key-stage-1-assessments-england-2016

The latest DfE publication of outcomes of phonic testing reveals that;

More than 4 in 5 (81%) pupils met the expected phonics standard in year 1 (6 year olds) in 2016, a 4 percentage point increase from 2015 when 77% of pupils achieved the expected standard. By the end of year 2 (age 7), more than 9 in 10 pupils (91%) met the standard in 2016, a 1 percentage point increase from 2015.

At the same time, under the new teacher assessment rules, there has been a fall in reported outcomes for the skill of writing. I suspect over the next few years there will be a real debate about the place of writing in early education. There is a role in helping to form and understand letters and also to develop the skill of communication. Will that last for the first ‘tablet’ generation? I suspect that children don’t see writing as an essential tool any more. It isn’t a skill they often see demonstrated in the home. Apart from writing your signature, when, reader, did you last pen a piece of script: possibly on your Christmas cards? This leads me to wonder about the future for written examinations? Not only will the memory test part be of less value, but if the handwriting skill isn’t seen as useful, what Twenty First century skills are we trying to test?

According to the DfE figures for England as a whole, being in small class at KS1 may help with reading, doesn’t seem to help with writing and makes no difference in mathematics skills achieved. Of course, none of this allows for parental help and the support of siblings. However, all the other features we know from past experience are repeated in the 2016 outcomes. Girls achieve higher scores overall than boys; pupils on free school meals achieve lower scores than other pupils, as do pupils with identified special needs at KS1. At this stage, those with English as a second language don’t do as well as native speakers, although we know that they can outperform as a group by later key stages.

The small sliver of good news for boys is that among pupils outperforming the expected standard in mathematics, boys outperform girls, but by a smaller margin than girls outperform boys in reading and writing. The other good news is that the gap between pupils on free school meals and other pupils continues to close, but at a slow rate of around a percentage point a year. With the living wage and assuming unemployment remains low, the number of children assessed at KS1 on free meals may well fall, making further reductions in the gap more of a challenge.

But, back to phonics. The gap between the best and worst local authorities, by end of year 2, is just eight percentage, points compared at a gap of 25% between the best and worst in writing. Sadly, Oxford, where I live, continues to perform badly, this despite five years of various interventions. The fact that these less well performing schools in Oxford will for the most part receive more funding under the new formula can only be good news, but not is the funds come from robbing cash from rural primary schools.






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