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Children's laureate criticises phonics tests

09/01/2013 Joanna
Children's laureate Julia Donaldson has criticised the government's preferred method of teaching children to read for lacking flexibility.

Under current government policy, phonics - which teaches children to recognise sounds rather than whole words - has become the cornerstone of teaching children to read in England.

These include a controversial new phonics test for six-year-olds, whereby primary teachers assess pupils' ability to sound out a mixture of real and made-up words.

Official data published in September indicated that only 58 per cent of pupils had passed the test, with 56 per cent of children from disadvantaged backgrounds failing them.

Now Mrs Donaldson, who was appointed children's laureate back in 2011, has voiced her opposition to what she deemed to be an excessive focus on phonics, as well as to the phonics tests.

Speaking at the launch of a series of short plays designed to improve young children's reading skills, she asserted that children learn to read in different ways - some through phonics, others through looking and seeing words and some "by osmosis".

She said that she was a supporter of phonics and had once felt that it was underrepresented on the curriculum but that that now the pendulum had "swung too far the other way".

Mrs Donaldson also warned many schools could end up "teaching to the test" and of the detrimental impact that failing them could have on young pupils' confidence.

She added: "It is important to learn the different sounds and teachers do their own checks. I think it is a bit patronising for teachers."

The author said her new series of playlets,' The Bug Club Plays to Read', were designed to make reading more fun for children, getting them to read out their parts with greater expression and also helping them to learn new vocabulary.

A government-commissioned report into the phonics tests published in 2011 found that two fifths of teachers said the checks had helped them to detect if pupils were struggling, but also identified a range of concerns, especially over the use of pseudo-words.

Posted by Alan DouglasADNFCR-2164-ID-801518870-ADNFCR
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