My problem with the Year 1 Phonics test.

Now, I’m going to talk about the Year 1 Phonics screening test and why I think it is a load of **** and just another added pressure for us teachers to hit targets that don’t actually mean anything.

I’ve not mentioned about me teaching in Year 1 before, I didn’t want to help give my identity away and I also never felt the need to mention it. Now that I am no longer in my mainstream school I feel like it is time to air my grievances about this new test that was only very recently invented and has just been taken in every school in England.

Let’s get one thing straight. No one cares about the phonics test. It’s really not important in the grand scale of things. A six year old who is unable to read the word Sprock correcty is not going to fail their GCSEs; just like a six year old who can read the word voip without any problems is not automatically going to be a NASA scientist. It’s all irrelevant.

The phonics test measures nothing apart from how well a teacher can ‘teach to test’ and get her class of children (who, by the way, should be learning through play and experiences in year 1) to pass another pointless test.

The test is that pointless that I honestly will not care if my child passes or fails the test, it means that little to me. In my previous school a middle class teacher’s son had failed his phonics test the first time around and had to retake it in year 2. She said ‘how they expect the children of our inner city Yorkshire school, with 90% EAL to pass this phonics test, when my son who speaks English fluently and is at an outstanding little village school still can’t pass it.’ And that is the thing- the phonics test does not matter about ability. It does not prove that a school is a good one just because it has a high phonics test pass rate, just like it does not mean a school or a teacher is ‘inadequate’ if they do not get all of their class to pass the phonics test.

So, in good ol’ fashioned Teacher Tantrums style here are my bullet points on the problems with the Year 1 phonics test.

  • It puts pressure on Year 1 teachers. I was told that I would not make pay progression if my target of a 72% pass rate in phonics was not achieved. The year before (when I had been on maternity leave, may I add) Year 1 achieved 42%. The stress and panic I felt after receiving my targets was unbelievable. Could I possibly achieve 70%? What happened if I didn’t? Should I start doing mock phonics test eight months ahead now? What will I do if I am denied pay progression? I’m not afraid to say that I had a few sleepless nights worrying about this issue.

 

  • You start to ‘teach to test’ from around February. In my school we were told (and knew he just had to, to get the results) that we had to stop teaching all topic work in the afternoons- geography, history, art etc.- to put in extra phonics sessions. Teachers were expected to teach extra phonics during assembly times, breaks, lunch times and for ‘just 10mins’ before the end of the day. It was so soul destroying hearing 5 and 6 year olds groaning when you announced that they were going to be practising their real and nonsense words. They just wanted to play!

 

  • The test itself has many flaws. It is not regulated, so how do you know that stressed, pressurised teachers are not just ticking yes that their children can read certain words correctly, when they haven’t? Who is ever going to check? The test is done in a room with just the teacher and child- teachers could hear the word read incorrectly and help and guide the child into reading it correctly- who would ever know?

 

  • The test seems to try and deliberately confuse and trick children. Some ‘nonsense’ words are extremely close to familiar real words; when I did the phonics test my children kept pronouncing the nonsense word ‘broun’ as ‘brown’. Lots of the children were high ability who could read fluently and were just using their prior knowledge to try and make sense of the words in front of them.

 

  • The test is difficult for EAL children. They are struggling to understand a new language and are just learning how to read real words that they can comprehend- then next minute here comes a bloody ‘alien’ word that they then have to decipher. Try explaining what a zoit is to a six year old kid from Yemen who keeps asking ‘what is zoit?’. #realsituation.

 

  • The test has taken away the fun, enrichment and experiences from year 1. Once Decemeber is out of the way then there is no time for choosing, free play or using the role play corner. Making Easter cards? Are you mad?! That’s 45mins that could be spent going through the jolly phonics songs and playing Obb and Bob for the sixty millionth time.

Myself and my TA worked tirelessly to help my old class have the best chance to pass the phonics test. On finding my new job one of the things I was pleased about was getting out of having to do the phonics test. However, I still wanted my class to do well for my sake. I left at the Easter term with only 5 weeks to go before the children took the phonics test, so I knew that I was still responsible for the children’s results, the teacher who had taken over my job would not be held accountable and my new school would be contacting my Head to enquire if I had met my targets. So I was still worried and thought about my class on June 13th when they took the test.

My former TA texted me at the weekend to tell me the results. My class had got 82% definitely and if the pass rate remained at 33 like like year ten it will be 85%. I was absolutely, genuinely over the moon! But I was even ore over the moon that I will not have to go through all the phonics bull crap next year.

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2 thoughts on “My problem with the Year 1 Phonics test.

    • A very interesting read- thanks for pointing that out, makes me feel better about the hard work me and my colleagues put in 🙂

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