I am no great expert at Primary teaching. I have taught in secondary schools for nearly 20 years, but those smaller ones are a whole different kettle of behaviour management skills. However I have had the delight of being a chair of governors at a nearby infant school for the last 3 years. Because the head is superb, this is not an onerous task. However in the last couple of weeks there has been a really big black cloud on her horizon: the phonics test. The further I investigated this the more I begin to see what a poorly conceived strategy this is – so much so that I have felt obliged to write to our MP Mr. John Glen (Conservative). The only point I didn’t raise was that of Ms. Ruth Miskin and her triple role as 1)sole Primary literacy expert to the government, (2)developer of the approved government scheme and (3) publisher of books connected with the £3,000 match funding scheme. Because that is being discussed elsewhere by people with far more expertise in government business connections than I.
So here is a copy of the letter I wrote:
Dear Mr. Glen,
I am writing to you as Chair of Governors at Wyndham Park Infants’ school. Recently the school had to administer and carry out phonics tests for Year 1 pupils.
I would like you to know that both the headteacher and I can see no reason for making the pupils of our school take these tests; this is because:
1. They only serve to take up time that could be better spent teaching.
2. The results tell the teachers little that they already didn’t know about the pupils in their classes.
3. There is a cost to running these tests. This money would have more impact on pupils learning if it was spent in a different way.
4. Also the results of these tests can only distress parents of pupils who did not pass and make the child themselves feel negative about their chances of doing well in education.
5. When we have to report simply on whether a child has passed or failed a test this takes away from all the hard work we at Wyndham Park put into focussing on pupil’s making progress (and this is a key component to OFSTED’s definition of outstanding teaching).
6. Measuring children who are up to 12 months part in age is also not a level playing field on which to be judged
7. I also know from having talked to staff that some of the most able readers performed worse than less developed readers who rely solely on phonics.
Please could you be aware that this government policy is therefore only having a negative impact on pupils, parents, teachers and head teachers and should I believe be scrapped.
We would be delighted for you to visit Wyndham Park at any time to view the outstanding work that all staff and pupils do here.
Chair of Governors
Wyndham Park Infants’ school
Cc Mr Michael Gove