Education & Family

Reading check for six-year-olds rolled out

Child reading
Image caption The government says the reading check will identify children who are struggling

Five and six-year-olds in England will face a new reading test next summer, after trials this year.

They will be tested on how they read using phonics, where children learn the sound of letters and groups of letters.

The government says nearly half of the teachers who took part in the trial said it had helped them identify children with reading problems.

But teachers' unions and the UK Literacy Association have been critical of the test.

A total of 300 schools took part in trials this summer.

'Quick check'

At Elmhurst Primary School in east London, 120 pupils in Year 1 were checked.

Head teacher Shahed Ahmed described what happened.

He said children came out of their class one by one to look at a booklet of 20 simple words and 20 "pseudo" (made-up) words with their teacher.

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Media captionSheffield University's Prof Greg Brooks and former Ofsted director Sir Jim Rose debate the introduction of a new phonetic learning test for six-year-olds.

"There were four to six words on each page and it took about five to seven minutes per child," he said.

"It's a quick check of children's phonic knowledge, not a reading test.

"We want to know that they can read the sounds of letters and blend them together."

The "non-words" used include "vap" and "vog". They are there, the government says, to check whether children can use their knowledge of phonics to de-code or work out words.

The check is being introduced as part of the Westminster government's drive to get all primary schools to teach children to read quickly using phonics systematically.

All schools in England probably use phonics to teach children to read but ministers say that to be effective, the system must be used systematically, rigorously and early.

Image caption The results will be reported to parents and made available to Ofsted, the government and other schools

One in five pupils does not reach the level of English expected of them when they leave primary school.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: "There is no doubt we need to raise standards of reading. Only last month we learnt that one in 10 boys aged 11 can read no better than a seven-year-old.

"The new check is based on a method that is internationally proven to get results, and the evidence from the pilot is clear - thousands of six-year-olds, who would otherwise slip through the net, will get the extra reading help they need to become good readers, to flourish at secondary school and to enjoy a lifetime's love of reading.

"This study finds that the check will be of real benefit to pupils but takes just a few minutes to carry out, is backed by most teachers and is liked by most children."


Teaching unions agree phonics is a good way of teaching children to read but say it is one of a range of techniques used by teachers, who should be trusted to vary their methods depending on their pupils.

Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT said: "NASUWT research, among thousands of teachers, has shown that the clear majority disagree with the introduction of a compulsory phonics reading test for six year olds.

"Teachers oppose the test because it will not provide robust information about a child's reading ability.

"It is possible to pass a phonics reading test and still not be able to read."

The UK Literacy Agency (UKLA) is campaigning against the check.

It says phonics is the most effective way of reading many words, but cannot be used to read all words, for example "come" and "once", which require other techniques.

Greg Brooks, a former president of UKLA and Emeritus Professor at Sheffield University, says the check will inevitably become "high-stakes", leading to teachers "teaching to the test" and causing anxiety for parents and children.

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