3.5 Educational arguments which irritate me.

1. The phonic check, we’re told, ensures we spot the 20% of society who are functionally illiterate.

Yet one of the arguments against it says children who can already read make the nonsense words into real ones. Or, like Lucy Powell MP’s daughter, who can read really well, still failed the check. I’m told these children (despite any research I’ve read showing if children can read at 5 their literacy and academic achievement is likely to be excellent) have hidden phonic difficulties and will need to know the alphabetic code because there might be a really, really, really long word they can’t decode one day. Knowing the phonemes in the year 1 phonic check will stop this problem that isn’t actually a problem. If it is a problem, these students who can read but fail the phonics check are definitely not going to be in the 20% this check is designed to identify. Indeed they’ll be the students who can read and spell whatever method is used.

2. Those who criticise most vociferously OFSTED and its grading system because it criticises how teachers teach, seem to be the most critical of how teachers teach if it isn’t the way they want teachers to teach.

3. The ‘every second counts’ clan spend much energy telling us how students must be on task all the time and we can’t waste a second making puppets or posters; we will let the children down and they will be doomed for all eternity. Teachers who do group work are wasting children’s time which is precious, precious, precious. 

Mention private schools however and they’re all – marvellous, marvellous, marvellous. But private schools have longer holidays and sporting trips and drama activities which take time out of the curriculum. It’s not a problem to miss an afternoon’s school for a rugby match but I’m not allowed to make a puppet in a state school English lesson.

3.5 Similarly this ‘every second counts’ doesn’t seem to include the children who are excluded – they can be off as long as they like because they’re ruining the education for others. It’s also likely this cohort fall into the 20% functionally illiterate category but let’s not worry about that; someone else should be sorting that out.


  1. I find it very worrying if someone in the teaching profession thinks a child who can ‘read really well’ would not be able to reach or exceed the benchmark of the Year One Phonics Screening Check.

    A child who has not reached the requisite 32 out of 40 must therefore have read/decoded incorrectly 9+ words out of 40 – nearly 25% or more of the words. Does this really fit the description of ‘reads really well’?

    The pseudo words in the PSC are deliberately one syllable words with the level of alphabetic code that is most likely to have been taught by the time of the check. For example, the pseudo words from the 2015 check include: fip, pon, hab, ulb, dack, chob, nurt, queet, plap, froin, melp, heent, yair, blies, keam, whape, braft, thrant, sprop, strow.

    It may well be that a young child would translate some of these into ‘real’ words but even one or two of these words translated thus should not have prevented a child who can ‘read really well’ from achieving the benchmark which allows for plenty of errors.

    In addition, it is made clear to children that the words are nonsense words and not expected to ‘make sense’. What child in Year One who can ‘read really well’ would have a 25% error rate in the circumstances of the check?

    A child who can read books he or she is presented with to ‘read really well’ could be getting by OK with a percentage of intelligent guessing based on his or her level of spoken language and the level of support within the books such as the pictures and context. However, this does not bode well for tackling words that are unknown to the child – even shorter words – not just longer words.

    In any event, literature is full of words not generally used in spoken language and increasingly so as texts become more challenging or subject specific. It is vital that all children are proficient at applying the alphabetic code and blending to read new and more challenging words. Without being able to come up with a pronunciation for new words, the new words cannot be brought into spoken language and children with such reading profiles (that is, dependent on multi-cueing guessing and their own level of vocabulary) may stall out in later years unbeknown to teachers and parents.

    I find it very worrying that you are now focusing on special needs if you are not aware of this state of affairs for reading instruction and reading success.

    Regarding your comments about children who are excluded – I have every sympathy with your observation. I know of a child who was illegally excluded for around 8 months and it proved impossible to hold anyone in authority to account – including Ofsted – I know because I tried.

    The child concerned was in a school judged ‘outstanding’ on every count by Ofsted but this was not an outstanding school when it came to reading instruction. This was a typical ‘mixed methods’ school. As the child got older, the trigger points were often guided reading when the child was asked to read aloud in a group. The child was not provided with decodable books but with the kind of books that rely on guessing through multiple cues. The child, therefore, was always failing at reading and writing. The child was exceptional with phonics skills – blending lots of sounds together to ‘discern’ the target word and able to orally segment spoken words which were long and challenging. The child, however, did not know sufficient alphabetic code – that is, the letter/s-sound correspondences in the books provided for reading practice.

    I wonder just how many children who are identified with ‘special needs’ are struggling with their reading and writing? No wonder when teachers are still embedded to mixed methods and multi-cueing and they don’t understand about the value of phonics provision – and they think it is OK for Year One children who can ‘read really well’ not to reach the requisite benchmark.

    • I don’t know Lucy Powell’s child but there are many indicators her child will flourish academically. Due to her failing the phonic check this little girl will be put in interventions with children who can genuinely not read and will require intensive phonic instruction to remediate their reading difficulty. The fact we cannot differentiate between these children is simplistic nonsense.

      One of my (identical twins) got full marks and the other failed – taught by same teacher so I struggle to blame her. This twin however had not learned to read (other than HDW words by sight) so she needed the intervention and SSP and analytic phonics was absolutely the right thing to teach her. In Yesr 2 she passed the check and her reading is improving.

      I agree with your comments on exclusions – this child should have had intensive. phonic based

      • Sorry this sent before ready…HDW = HFW

        Intensive phonic based instruction and it’s criminal that the system is letting these children down. As I said, I child who can read well at 5, yet fails phonic check are not children we need to worry about.

        Thank you Debbie for replying to my post.

  2. I’m pleased that we have blogs through which we can discuss these things.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one, however, as a five year old described as a really good reader should be able to decode words whether real or nonsense and whether in a book or as a word list.

    Kind regards,


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