http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/20 ... eneration/
Phonics revolution: Reading standards in England are best in a generation, new international test results show
Camilla Turner, education editor
4 DECEMBER 2017
Reading standards in England are the best in a generation, as new international test results show that the phonics push has led to a dramatic shift in children’s attainment.
A study of the reading ability of nine and ten-year-olds in 50 countries puts England in joint eighth place, the country’s highest ranking since the test was introduced in 2001.
Schools minister Nick Gibb said that this is the first definitive set of evidence that one of the Government’s most controversial education reforms is working.
In 2010, the Conservative Party changed the national curriculum to require schools to use phonics, where children are taught to read by learning individual sounds and then blending different sounds together into words.
The method has been championed by the Government as key to raising literacy standards, but has faced staunch opposition.
A Phonics Screening Check for six-year-olds was also introduced – a move which came under heavy criticism from teaching unions.
This test consists of a list of 40 words that the child reads to their teacher. Half the words are ordinary words and the other half are made up ‘pseudo-words’ – these are included to make sure that children have been taught to decode words using phonics rather than learning words by sight.
Previously, schools used variations of the “look and say” method, where children are repeatedly shown frequently used words until they are able to recognise them automatically.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Gibb said: “In the years just before we came into government in 2010, we knew something was wrong with the way our primary schools taught reading; England was falling down the international league tables.
“The international data also showed a wider gap between top and bottom performers than in most other countries. England was well known for its ‘long tail of underachievement’.”
Mr Gibb said that despite the overwhelming body evidence in favour of phonics, the Government faced opposition from those opposed to testing, professors of education who "had built a career on teaching teachers to use the ‘look and say’ approach" and teaching unions.
“We pressed on nonetheless, confident in the evidence base and encouraged by the thousands of teachers who had embraced and supported this method of teaching children to read and who could see the results in their classrooms," he said.
Children who participated in the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) were the first cohort to be taught to read using phonics. In 2011, England came joint tenth PIRLS, which is run every five years by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement. England came 15th in 2006 and third in 2001.
“Today, we received the first set of international evidence since our more rigorous, knowledge-rich primary school curriculum was introduced, and they confirm that our approach is working," Mr Gibb said.
“The international study of nine to ten-year-olds’ reading ability in 50 countries showed that England has risen to joint 8th place in 2016, thanks to a statistically significant rise in our average score.”
Mr Gibb has previously claimed that "fallacious" beliefs about reading had "blighted" the education outcomes of "generations of children".
He has said that although the Government is winning the “war” over reading instruction, "pernicious arguments" made by some academics are undermining its efforts.
In 2012, the first year of the Phonics Check, 58 per cent of six-year-olds reached the pass mark. This year, 81 per cent of six-year-olds reached that standard, with 92 per cent reaching that standard by the end of year 2.
Official statistics from the Department for Education, show that 147,000 more six-year-olds became fluent readers in 2016 compared with the same period five years ago.