South Tyneside school reading test figures spark debate

Concern is growing over the teaching of reading. Picture by PA Archive/PA Images
Concern is growing over the teaching of reading. Picture by PA Archive/PA Images

Children in South Tyneside who do not speak English as a first language are more likely to pass important Year 1 reading tests than native speakers, figures reveal.

Department for Education data shows the results of phonics tests, which children take aged five and six.

Children sound out a series of specially created words to show they can read the letters rather than just recognise words. If they fail they repeat the test in Year 2.

In South Tyneside, in 2018, 83% of native English speakers passed, compared to 86% of children where English was not their first language.

With boys the pass rate was 85% to 78% in favour of those speaking English as a second language.

Girls who spoke English as a first language fared better than those who had a different native tongue.

However, the National Education Union (NEU) does not believe phonics help children learn to read.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “In prioritising synthetic phonics above other approaches to the teaching of reading, the Government is doing teachers and children no service.

“Schools are working hard to ensure high scores in the phonics test, but teachers have no faith that a relentless focus on one kind of reading method produces readers who can enjoy and engage with real books.

“The Government continues to confuse accuracy in decoding words with fluency in reading. They are not the same thing.”

Disadvantaged children on free school meals have a significantly lower pass rate than those who do not qualify for them.

In 2018, 73% of children on free school meals passed, while 85% of other pupils did.

The NEU said these figures are “worrying”.

“Poverty makes a huge difference to educational attainment,” said Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary of the NEU.

“Research shows thatchildren born into poverty have significantly lower test scores at age three, age five and age seven years.”

Overall phonics test scores have been steadily rising in recent years.

In South Tyneside, 83% of pupils passed this year, compared with 56% in 2012.

Across England the pass rate has risen from 58% to 82%.

South Tyneside has the same pass rate as the average for the North East.

School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said: “Since the introduction of the phonics check in 2012 there has been a huge improvement in the teaching of reading in primary schools.

“Phonics is not dependent on the background of a child or on their cultural knowledge or vocabulary. It is a mechanical skill which if taught properly every child should be able to perfect.

“What this gap reveals is that in some schools phonics is not being taught as effectively as it should be.”