Further Government Expenditure on the Phonics Check: why, with the available evidence?
By Margaret M Clark OBE
In Synthetic Phonics and Literacy Learning: an evidence-based critique (Clark, 2014) I considered the evidence for the Government’s policy of synthetic phonics, claims for it as the best method of teaching reading and the results of the phonics check. In two recent articles in the Education Journal (17 March 2015: 15-18 and 13 July: 16-19) I updated the information and noted a number of government initiatives proposed by Schools Minister Nick Gibb concerning further expenditure on the phonics check, one made before and one since the election of the Conservative Government in May. I have not yet been able to establish thedetailed plans for, or costs of, the opt-in pilot study in 300 schools to extend the check to children in Year 3 who failed the check in Year 2. I understand schools will sign up in the new academic year.
However, further details were released on 14 July about the funding initiative by DfE to schools that excel in phonics teaching to become partners. The selected schools would each receive a grant of £10,000. The names of the eight selected schools to receive the grants “to help them spread their expertise to other schools” were announced in the Press Release under the title: New £10,000 grants to continue drive to eliminate illiteracy.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb said: “To ensure as many young people as possible develop a strong grasp of reading early on the grants of £10,000 will be made available to 8 groups of schools, led by top-performing primaries. The money will be used by groups of schools to develop models to improve phonics teaching that have potential to work for other schools.
It is claimed in the Press Release that: “Achieving the expected standard in the phonics check is a strong indicator of a pupil’s performance in wider reading assessments.” I am concerned at the continuing claims by the Government that there is evidence of the effectiveness of the phonics check in improving reading attainment. The percentage pass rate on the check may have increased each year.
However, NFER was funded by DfE for a three year research into the effects of the phonics check and its cost effectiveness. In my recent article on 13 July I made an evaluation of the results in the final report and in earlier articles I made reference to the findings in the two interim reports. To quote: “The evaluation did not find any evidence of improvements in pupils` literacy performance, or in progress, that could be clearly attributed to the introduction of the PSC” (p17 of my article and p.8 of NFER report). In his recent NFER Blog, The truth about the Phonics Screening Check, Matt Walker, senior researcher in the NFER government-funded research makes similar statements. In spite of the evidence, including from the NFER research actually funded by DfE, Nick Gibb continues to make the claims he has been making for years. The Government not only continues to spend money on the check, but also on related expensive initiatives, including this new initiative costing £80,000.
We are grateful to Demitri Coryton of the Education Journal for allowing us to reproduce this article featured in Issue 241 of the Education Journal for our members.