Government abandons year 3 phonics check after trial prompts workload concerns

Government abandons year 3 phonics check after trial prompts workload concerns

The government will not extend its phonics screening check re-takes to year three pupils after a trial run prompted concerns from teachers.

Officials told Schools Week that a check for eight-year-olds will not be rolled out to all primaries following a pilot in which saw 51 per cent of pupils achieve the government’s ‘expected standard’.

Pupils will continue to be assessed on phonics in years one and two.

The decision comes after a survey of teachers carried out alongside the pilot reveals some concerns about the check, with 62 per cent reporting an increase in workload as a result.

More than a third of teachers also claimed the check had had no impact on the teaching of phonics to pupils who had fallen behind.

The phonics screening check was introduced in 2012 to boost pupil reading skills. Pupils are currently subjected to teacher assessment in year one, and those who fail to reach the expected standard are then tested again in year two.

Last year, 81 per cent of year one pupils nationally achieved the government’s expected standard, but the figures were questioned after mark distribution data showed a steep rise around the pass mark of 32.

Officials commissioned the pilot, carried out last June by the National Foundation for Educational Research, as part of an investigation into whether a further check was needed in year three.

However, the government now says it will not proceed with a nationwide roll-out of the scheme, and Schools Week understands this is as a result of the outcomes of the pilot.

The news has been welcomed by Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the government should be “commended for following the evidence”.

“Pilots are a good way to test policy, and it’s sensible to act on what they tell you. The government is often attracted to retakes and resits, when in fact a different approach to teaching is needed.”

Data from the trial shows that more than half of the 1,625 pupils who took part had special educational needs, well above the national average of less than 15 per cent.

Of those with SEND who took part in the check, 39 per cent reached the expected standard, while 65 per cent of those without SEND reached it.

Figures also show 28 per cent of the pupils were eligible for free school meals, almost double the primary school national average of 14.5 per cent.

A DfE spokesperson said ensuring all children can read fluently by the time they leave primary school is “fundamental” to its ambition to make the country “work for everyone”.

“Thanks to the hard work of teachers, our continued focus on raising standards and our increased emphasis on phonics?, there are now an additional 147,000 six-year-olds on track to becoming fluent readers.

“While this is a huge achievement, we know there is more to do. We will work with schools and local authorities to ensure even more young people have the knowledge and skills they need to get on in life.”

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