Michael Gove’s phonics farce

26 Apr

On Tuesday I went to a phonics meeting at the Ls school. L2 has the misfortune to be a victim of the second year of Michael Gove’s demented Phonics Screening Check; like all schools, ours has had this ridiculous additional test foisted upon them. Thanks ‘Mike’. Now I appreciate that by the language I’m using you can probably spot I’m not the biggest fan of Gove nor indeed most of the changes he’s either introduced or trying to introduce, but in the interests of involved parenting I thought I’d best go along to find out more.

Firstly, testing tiny children – and they are tiny children – academically is a farce. They are little, and tests are stressful, no matter how nurturing the environment they take the test in. I simply cannot understand why the concept of success or failure has to be a part of education when they are in their second year of school. It’s pretty rubbish to be six and told that you’ve failed something, isn’t it. There is enough of that shenanigans later on.

And they learn in different ways at different paces. I only have the two children but even from that statistically insignificant sample (it would never stand up as quotable proof in The Day Job) I can see that this is the case. So for one child, learning to read via phonics might make perfect sense, while for the next, it’s photographic recall; for yet another, it will be sound association. Some children think in pictures, some think in words, and some think in something entirely different. So testing progress on a phonics-based system can’t possibly provide a true guide to how clearly they’re taking things in.

And in addition, surely seeing a clearly made-up word to read out will throw many little children into a state of confusion and even panic. They don’t know it, it doesn’t mean anything, but they’re expected to say it. The word isn’t real, yet have to behave as if it is. It’s a fairly sophisticated concept, isn’t it, asking a five or six year old to sound out a word via phonics to deliver a vowel and consonant combination that doesn’t actually include a meaning at the end of it?

Because yes, that is this test. And here is the heart of my objection to it. The list of words they have to read consists of a mixture of made-up and real words which they are expected to treat in the same way. On the practice sheet – I have it in front of me now – the made-up words are ‘ot’, ‘vap’, ‘osk’ and ‘ect’. I already predict L2 will be too caught-up in the make-up of an ‘ect’ – or is it ‘to ect’, who knows – to take the rest of it in. And I would argue that the English language is rich and varied enough that if Gove’s gang really must test at this stage – and it seems to be something they’re increasingly set upon – they could at least mine the set of real words available to test the same end result.

Don’t try and tell me that the children might know all the words selected – I think at this age that’s highly unlikely; and at least when they succeed in sounding out something real that they’ve never seen before, it’s a step further in vocabulary rather than just in phonics mechanics. Language isn’t mechanics, it’s beautiful, so can’t we please just use it.


2 Responses to “Michael Gove’s phonics farce”

  1. jsquared April 27, 2013 at 8:13 am #

    Are you serious? Made up words? I’m gobsmacked. My little one started school knowing her alphabet, after learning phonics in school she no longer remembers it. Why have they started phonics tests but have stopped spelling tests? My little one went through the early classes being told that the spelling didn’t matter. Now she is in Yr 4 and I and many of the other parents are concerned about how bad their spelling is and that even in year three their work wasn’t corrected to show what it should be.

    • lizrossmartyn April 27, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

      What is happening to the education system under Gove is outrageous, and needs to be highlighted at every opportunity. Your experience sadly does not surprise me, and demonstrates another reason why the shift away from logical learning cannot work. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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