Phonics check pass rate falls for the first time

The proportion of year 1 pupils meeting the government’s “expected standard” in the phonics screening check has fallen for the first time since the test was introduced.

In 2019, 82 per cent of year 1 pupils met the expected standard, down 0.6 percentage points on last year. The proportion of pupils achieving the standard by the end of year 2 was 91 per cent this year, down 0.4 percentage points on 2018.

It is the first time since the tests were introduced in 2012 that the proportion meeting the expected standard has fallen. The government has described the pass rate as “broadly stable” over the past four years.

However, as in previous years, mark distribution data shows a steep rise around the pass mark of 32, something experts have called “dodgy” in the past.

In its response, the government has heralded the performance of free schools, where 87 per cent reached the expected standard in year 1, a higher rate than in converter academies (83 per cent), LA-maintained schools (82 per cent) and in sponsored academies (80 per cent).

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said: “If children are to achieve their full potential it’s vital that they are given firm foundations to build on – and that’s what these statistics show is happening. It’s particularly pleasing to see free schools doing so well, illustrating the important role they play in the system.

“Mastering phonics, which provides a solid foundation for reading, along with basic numeracy and literacy, means these pupils will be able go on to apply these skills in more and more advanced ways.”

But Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said the check was “a poor use of staff time and should not be compulsory for children”.

“Statutory testing distorts teaching. Unfortunately, this has been a characteristic within primary accountability in recent years, from phonics to the new times tables check. No one would argue that children should not have a good grasp of phonics and or know their times tables; but statutory testing is not the best way to assess this.”

He also said the sector should be “very careful of reading too much into small year-on-year fluctuations in the results of a single cohort”.


KS1 SATs: Writing and science up, reading and maths stable

Data published today also shows the proportion of pupils achieving the expected standard in key stage 1 writing and science teacher assessments has fallen nationally.

This year, 69 per cent met the expected standard in writing, down from 70 per cent last year, and 82 per cent reached the benchmark in science, down from 83 per cent last year.

The proportion meeting the expected standard in reading and maths remained stable at 75 per cent and 76 per cent respectively.

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