Disadvantaged white boys lag behind peers in UK phonics test

Disadvantaged white boys lag behind peers in UK phonics test

White boys from disadvantaged family backgrounds are significantly underachieving even at the earliest stage of their education, results of this year’s phonics screening check for six-year-olds have revealed.

When results are broken down by ethnic group, gender and free school meal (FSM) eligibility, white boys on FSM are the lowest attaining group, with only six out of 10 pupils (62%) meeting the required standard.

Although official figures published by the government on Thursday show a two percentage point improvement on last year’s results among this group, disadvantaged white boys still lag way behind their peers.

Overall more than four in five pupils (82%) met the expected standard in the phonics screening check this year, a one percentage point increase on 2017 results. Chinese girls (not eligible for FSM) were the highest performing group.

The screening check involves pupils reading a list of 40 words aloud, of which half are nonsense. The pass mark this year was 32. Pupils who fall short take the check again at the end of year 2, by which time 92% met the required standard.

Analysis of the phonics results also revealed that fewer than half of pupils (44%) with special educational needs (SEN) reached the pass mark, compared with 89% of pupils with no identified SEN.

A child practises writing.
A child practises writing. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

The Department for Education also published provisional results for key stage 1 teacher assessments which showed that the number of six- and seven-year-olds reaching the expected standard in reading had dropped slightly compared to last year.

In reading, 75% reached the expected standard down from 76% last year, while in maths, 76% of children reached the required mark, compared to 75% in 2017.

The government said the phonics results showed that 163,000 more six-year-olds were on track to become fluent readers than in 2012 when the phonics check was introduced.

The test remains controversial, however, among some teachers and parents. A new survey by researchers at Newman University and Leeds Beckett University found that 85% of heads believe the test should not be compulsory, while 65% of teachers want it scrapped.

Wendy Scott, of the primary assessment campaign group More Than A Score, said: “Heads, teachers and parents agree: the phonics check is a waste of extremely valuable teaching time. Rather than learning to love reading, five and six-year-olds are spending months being drilled in nonsense words just so they can be tested.”

School standards minister Nick Gibb said: “This is a huge achievement, improving the lives and education of hundreds of thousands of children, but we remain determined to make sure that not just most children, but every single child, is able to meet his or her potential.”

Guardian

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