Posts Tagged ‘Say No to Phonics Tests for Small Children’

Early Learning and the Erosion of Childhood. Book launch hits Telegraph front page.

Saturday’s Telegraph front page slot featured an unusual education headline: “The erosion of childhood”.  A front page article featured a historic Open Letter signed by more than 200 specialists and parents which detailed how the space children have to grow, thrive and play is being eroded by commercialisation, target setting and testing. As a freelance journalist, parent and writer – I signed the letter too.

Also mentioned was the book of the same name to which I have contributed a chapter – which has already been referred to as ‘the most important book of the year’ on education. Early Learning and the Erosion of Childhood. The press coverage, the debate and the public information campaign called for – are directly relevant to government cuts in education and child care.

“Too much too soon – early learning and the erosion of childhood” Book Launch

Two copies of the book I wrote a chapter “Too much too soon – early learning and the erosion of childhood” for reached me through the post yesterday. No exaggeration to say almost everyone I know would like to read it (and I wish I had hundreds of copies to give away for that reason). It has been described by Professor Janet Moyles said:  “Surely the most important book on children’s learning and well-being published this year”. Here is the link again if you would like to buy or order it for your local library: “Too much too soon – early learning and the erosion of childhood”. Follow the links for a complete table of contents – that way you can see exactly what you are buying. There is so much ‘meat’ in and around the book – the launch feels like a slow burn so over the next few weeks I’ll keep readers posted on activities around it. Feedback on the book of course very welcome!

Nursery World headline: “Schools bribed to use phonics, M.P’s report says”. Phonics test for five and six year olds.

Nursery World publishes a piece on how schools have been ‘bribed’ to use phonics:

“In a report into overcoming the barriers to literacy, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education says that cash-strapped schools are being pushed into using synthetic phonics, because they are offered matched funding if they buy approved phonics products and training. It says that schools must buy resources from a small range of products from only one source.

The report emphasises that literacy policy should focus on instilling a love of reading to increase children’s motivation, well-being and attainment. The report, which is based on evidence from nearly 600 teachers and educationalists, says that the Government’s focus on synthetic phonics is at odds with the views of schools and education experts, who recommend a broad-ranging approach to literacy. “

In which the writer re-visits a socialist analysis of the English education system. Vgotsky at Marxism 2011.

This week I had the privilege of attending a packed seminar (around 100 people were present) with Jane Reed, NUT member at the cultural and political festival Marxism 2011. Jane introduced a seminar on “Vgotsky and how children learn”. All issues raised were relevant to the cuts in education : particularly the decimation of special needs provision and the much criticised Phonics test for five and six year olds – (the pilot alone will cost us a quarter of a million). You can obtain a recording of the session from Bookmarks bookshop.

Jane Reed speaks on "Vgotsky and how children learn". London, 2011

 
Speaking in an individual capacity Jane had been on strike this week. 

I’d never heard of Vgotsky before (although I’m a trained teacher in Adult Education). He was a Russian educational theorist and psychologist and his work is enjoying something of a revival right now amongst progressive teachers. It seems  highly relevant to Early Years Education and what is currently happening in the English educational system.

The session was an international one – with colleagues from the Czech Republic and Germany. Apparently the Vgotsky revival is showing itself in the States too (see the video below).
 
Jane’s talk focussed on the question: “What is education FOR?”. She spoke of an ideological attack which is currently taking place – which equates to an attempt to discipline teachers and students – an attack on teaching as a craft. She referred to a Department of Education quote: “students need to know their place again after 1968”.
 
Vgotsky wrote seven books in the 1920s and 30s in tsarist Russia and was particularly interested in children with special needs. His theories and practice are enjoying something of a revival amongst learning theorists and teachers right now –   not least because they emphasise the importance of ‘play’ AND the importance of learning in context – and the ways in which a child’s surroundings and the interactions in society and in a group –  influence how they learn.
 
Jane highlighted how Vgotsky’s theories and practice are directly relevant to early years education – the ‘tick-box’ system of the Early Years Foundation Stage and the Phonics Test  for five and six year olds. The much criticised Phonics Test includes ‘non-words’ – words completely taken out of context. 
 
There were many contributions from the floor including points made by a maths teacher, a drama teacher, and more than one special needs teacher. I spoke too briefly- I mentioned the relevance of this blog and the forthcoming Open Eye book “Dissent and the English Early Years Education System” – which I have contributed a chapter to – entitled:
 
 “A Parent’s  Challenge to New Labour’s Early Years Foundation Stage”. Fellow contributors to this book include Dr. Penelope Leach and Barry Sheerman, M.P.
 
The seminar was recorded and recordings are being made available at the Bookmarks Socialist Bookshop London. A Vgotsky study group also emerged from the seminar.
 
More on Vgotsky at this link: Vgotsky versus Piaget and in the videos below:


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Michael Rosen on synthetic phonics and a love of books.

Here is the very sensible Michael Rosen (who signed the international petition to Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds) with his take on synthetic phonics, targets and creating a love of books:

Phonics/reading test for five and six year olds rejected by the government’s EYFS review panel

Front page Times Educational Supplement today we find an interesting piece by Helen Ward entitled: “Phonics knocked off it’s perch by EYFS review”. in which Helen appears to be highlighting how the findings of the government-sponsored review panel appear to directly contradict coalition government policy on the reading test for five and six year olds. I’m saying ‘coalition government’ policy here – but actually the reading test is Conservative Policy and as far as I’m aware was never backed by the Liberal Democrats.

So we have a political controversy and I’ll say again what I’ve said before: The futures of young children are in danger of being sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.

Meanwhile Early Day Motion 1532 to rethink the Phonics Test has been signed by prominent Lib Dem, Labour and Green M.P’s but the Conservatives are noticeably absent from the list. So the phonics test for five and six year olds has been criticised by Phonics experts (such as Prof. Greg Brooks who signed the petition to Stop School League Tables for five year olds) – criticised by practitioners (see the international petition to Say No to the Phonics Test) and criticised by the government commissioned EYFS review panel. Yet the government is still going ahead with this. Orwellian, isn’t it?

I read a piece on the Educational Maintenance Allowance written by Aaron Porter formerly of the NUS in the Guardian yesterday. He seemed to be saying that Michael Gove and the coalition government either don’t know their own policies very well, don’t know what they are doing or that they are quite simply incompetent. I tend to agree.

 The major ideological objective behind many of these policies is to be blunt: to make people pay.  To make people pay for their schooling by allowing private companies to take over academies and elements of schooling, to make schools pay – and – because the policy is fundamentally educationally unsound – they are making our five and six year olds pay too.

There is another aspect of this (and forgive me for being so wordy readers) – which is the question of the private companies which are behind the organisation and creation of the phonics testing. The week before last the Times Educational Supplement ran several articles (for and against arguments) on the reading and phonics test for five and six year olds (although they were still referring to it as a test for six year olds). One of the comment pieces which supported the test was written by several authors some of whom were described as literacy trainers. I was prompted to respond to this with a readers letter which remained unpublished. Here it is:

“Very pleased to see more in depth coverage of the reading/phonics test this week. There were several simple points that I would like to highlight though.

Firstly can we please stop referring to the test as a “test for six year olds”?  A good number of summer-borns are set to be tested – and if our school is included in the pilot scheme – this would include my own five year old daughter. So it would be factually correct to call it a “test for five and six year olds”. Differentiating brings us closer to understanding how developmentally different children in Year One classes actually are.

Secondly – I was interested to read the piece by Ruth Miskin and Jenny Chew who are referred to as ‘literacy’ trainers. Amongst other issues raised in this piece we are reassuringly told “children need not be fazed by the requirements of the screening check”.  Does that mean that parents need likewise not be fazed by the £250,000 that the pilot scheme will cost? Or the fact that the government is refusing to tell us how much the scheme as a whole will cost, for reasons of commercial confidentiality as described in the Freedom of Information Act Query I submitted recently? Does that mean we need not be fazed by the fact that at least one of the authors of the article in question is not simply a ‘literacy’ trainer – but in addition appears to run a commercial enterprise, heavily marketing phonics materials and training packages across the country? Does that mean we don’t have to ask or answer questions about which companies are contracted to deliver these programmes and how? Are  we likewise not to be fazed by cuts in our libraries, arts and public services – which are directly relevant to children’s  ability to access books and communicate?   

Thirdly – I’m very glad to see the debate in the TES on the reading test – but most parents don’t read this paper – it (inevitably?) mainly addresses an elite audience. Your average parent at the school gate is not aware of the controversies surrounding the reading/phonics test. And even if they were – most of us do not believe we could change anything about it anyway. Even the most assertive parent – tends to crumble (in despair?) when faced with the many permutations of the adage that ‘teacher knows best’ in our society. Parents and their children continue to be excluded from a truly democratic discussion on education. They are disenfranchised and disempowered by the reading test plan – as they have been disempowered by the many other inappropriate measures foisted upon them in recent years.

Frances Laing (editor of the international petition “Stop School League Tables for Five Year Olds”, parent, trained teacher, writer, blogger and journalist).

One last note on this: I had requested our own M.P. Stephen Mosley to sign the EDM to rethink the reading/phonics test for five and six year olds. In response Stephen referred to some research that allegedly backed up the validity of the test. I sent off an email this week to ask what the research resources are that he is referring to. I shall look forward to receiving a response and inviting readers to comment. Stephen writes in his letter:

“I would like to assure you that the education Minister Nick Gibb, M.P. has undertaken a great deal of reseach in this area and that the Government’s proposals are supported by high quality research evidence from across the world, from Scotland and Australia to the National Reading Panel in the United States. The inclusion of non-words in the test would mean that pupils would have to de-code words and ensure that they have not just memorised individual words”.

Somehow I’m not reassured by this but after all what do I and my partner know about the education of five and six year olds (I’m only the mother of one of them – and my partner is only the one who goes to the library every week with her and reads the stories every night…

 A note of heavy sarcasm creeping in there. At the risk of banging on boringly about this and in the event that I don’t receive a response from Stephen Moseley M.P about the research sources the government is using to back up their arguments about the reading test – can anyone else out there help me out in naming these research sources?  Ta.

Update:

Made a start with researching the research sources, here is the U.S. source which interestingly enough, advocates a ‘combination of methods’ to develop reading skills, and not just one – this includes comprehension and listening to a child read. Question: isn’t that what schools are already doing? So why spent a quarter of a million pounds on a pilot scheme and several million more on rolling out an entirely new programme?

Here is what the U.S. National Reading Panel had to say about one study they conducted (for the rest follow the link above):

“The panel also concluded that guided oral reading is important for developing reading fluency-the ability to read with efficiency and ease. In guided oral reading, students read out loud, to either a parent, teacher or other student, who corrects their mistakes and provides them with other feedback. Specifically, guided oral reading helped students across a wide range of grade levels to learn to recognize new words, helped them to read accurately and easily, and helped them to comprehend what they read.

By contrast, the panel was unable to determine from the research whether reading silently to oneself helped to improve reading fluency. Although it makes sense that silent reading would lead to improvements in fluency, and the panel members did not discourage the practice, sufficient research to conclusively prove this assumption has not been conducted. Literally hundreds of studies have shown that the best readers read silently to themselves more frequently than do poor readers, the panel members wrote. However, these studies cannot distinguish whether independent silent reading improves reading skills or that good readers simply prefer to read silently to themselves more than do poor readers. The panel recommended that if silent reading is used as a classroom technique, intended to develop reading skills and fluency, it should be done in combination with other types of reading instruction, such as guided oral reading”. (From U.S. Reading Panel Study).

Early Day Motion 1532 launched at Westminster: Rethink Phonics/Reading Test for Young Children

And that all-important Early Day Motion on the Reading/Phonics Test for young children just appeared on the Westminster parliamentary site. Here is the ‘meat’ of it:

That this House endorses the views of many early years experts in calling for a rethink on the introduction of a phonics-based reading test for all 6 year olds; believes that phonics can play a crucial part in reading but that a simplistic exclusive focus on phonics can distort children’s learning and limit the breadth of their experience; believes that reading should be enjoyable and that children need to look for meaning as they read in order to develop fluency and understanding; and further believes that young children need to have highly trained teachers with an understanding of child development and that such teachers are best placed to identify children who are not reading at an appropriate level for their age and level of development through appropriate monitoring and observation.”

and here is the link: Parliamentary Early Day Motion: Phonics based Reading Test for Six (and five) Year Olds.

Please ask your own M.P. to sign it. And consider signing the international petition on the same theme:

International Petition: Say No to Phonics Based Reading Test for Young Children. http://www.gopetition.com/petition/42347.html