What is it with these heads that can’t stop crossing themselves and averring that they are not going to tell six-year-olds they are failures? As if any teacher in their right mind would declare a child a failure if they didn’t pass a test, any test. If anyone is declared a failure, it ought to be the heads who are responsible for not making sure that reading and spelling is taught properly in their schools.
The latest head to set his face against DfE’s new phonics screening check is Steve Iredale, who also happens to be the new leader of the National association of Head Teachers.
He is reported as saying that “it is an absolutely nonsense test with nonsense words”, which is where he also pledges not to tell children they are failures. What rot! It comes to something when people like this have to resort to aunt Sallies like this.
He goes on to express his scepticism about whether the test will be a true test of children’s reading ability on the grounds that ‘in one school it was noticeable that the brighter children paused when they came to a “nonsense” word thinking they must have heard it wrong and trying to conjure up alternative spellings to turn it into a real word’.
Very scientific, Mr Iredale! We’re not told how many children did this, or how Mr Iredale came to the conclusion that children were doing what they were doing – after all, they were ‘brighter children’ and presumably had been told that many of the words weren’t real words. Not that there’s anything wrong with children pausing to consider whether they are familiar with a word they are reading. They come across such words all the time in the course of their reading.
The problem, as I’ve pointed out before, is that very many heads haven’t a clue how to teach reading and spelling. Nor have they ever bothered to read the research on the subject.
For Mr Iredale’s benefit, read Nick Gibb’s lips! No more unacceptable illiteracy rates! The check is a check on how well children can decode. This involves the sub-skills of blending, segmenting and being able to link print to sound, as well as understanding some simple concepts, such as knowing that letters are symbols for sounds and that we can spell all sounds in the language with one, two, three, or four letters. Learning these skills, understanding these concepts and knowing which sounds in the language are represented by which spellings are not arrived at by most children unless they are taught explicitly and systematically. And even those children that do manage to work out for themselves how the writing system relates to the spoken language would learn much faster if they were given expert, properly directed instruction.
Oh, and another thing Mr Iredale, if a child can’t decode, they have no possibility of divining meaning from a text.