Academics from University College London and the University of Birmingham are reporting that the government's phonics tests, taken by hundreds of thousands of primary pupils each year, don't measure the correct skills.
According to the TES, the academics found that the test does not assess the full range of phonics knowledge that the national curriculum calls on these pupils to have. As such, they suggest that instead of studying the more obscure sound combinations in the English language, children might see more benefit from additional time spent reading books and building vocabulary.
In addition, the research found that around 40 per cent of the words on the test required pupils to have vocabulary knowledge, meaning this skill was necessary as well as phonics.
Jonathan Solity, honorary research fellow at University College London, said: "This is not an anti-phonics argument. It is absolutely clear that children need to be taught phonics."
However, he suggested that more time spent on building vocabulary would be particularly beneficial to disadvantaged pupils, as they often hear a smaller variety of words at home than other children.
Speaking at the annual British Educational Research Association, the authors of the study has called for changes to be made to the curriculum to include just the common sound and letter combinations that occur in the English language, and move on earlier to reading and expanding vocabulary skills.