Christine Blower · phonics · SATs

SATs stats

The announcement of this year’s SATs results has generated the usual furore over how to interpret them.
The DfE’s‘First Statistical Release’ states that:
The percentage of pupils achieving the expected level, level 4 or above, in the 2012 Key Stage 2 reading tests in all schools increased by 3 percentage points from 84 per cent in 2011 to 87 per cent in 2012.
Historically girls have performed better than boys in the reading tests. In 2012, 90 per cent of girls and 84 per cent of boys achieved level 4 or above. Boys’improvement was more pronounced, increasing by 3 percentage points since 2011 compared to an increase of 2 percentage points for girls.
However, as the release goes on to say:
There were significant changes to the Key Stage 2 assessment arrangements in 2012 that affect this release. In 2012, schools were no longer required to administer a writing test and submit these for external marking. As a result, measures based on teacher assessments for writing have been introduced for the first time. Therefore, this year’s figures for English cannot be compared to the figures for English that were published in earlier years, which were based solely on tests.
The difference between last year and this is that the writing test, which used to be assessed externally, has this year been assessed ‘solely … on teacher assessment’. What the release goes on to say is that ‘an externally marked writing test in 2012 [this year] showed 77% of pupils met the expected level’. As a spokesperson for the DfE makes clear,‘this suggests that there would have been a gap between test and teacher assessment outcomes for all pupils at national level’.
Presented with an array of figures I would contend that it’s easy to lose sight of the overall picture. I would ask how it is that 85% of pupils are reaching the expected level for reading and writing when secondary schools are gnashing their teeth in frustration at the number of pupils arriving in their schools unable to read and write to the level expected.
Meanwhile, one union leader, Christine Blower of the NUT, used the announcement to launch what is becoming a ritual display of her ignorance about phonics teaching. From her comments, it appears she expects that being taught phonics will have a detrimental effect on the performance of pupils in the years to come. She believes this because she just can’t seem to get into her head that being able to decode accurately enables pupils to read. Of course, if the pupil doesn’t have a particular word in their vocabulary, they probably won’t know what it means unless they are able to glean it from context. Neither can she seem to understand that if a pupil is able to decode fluently (automatically) they are much more likely to be able to read anything and to enjoy what they are read.
I find it utterly inexcusable that such a person as Blower – and she’s not the only one – working at such a high level in education circles can be so utterly lacking in knowledge of what phonics is and how it is taught.