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Foreign children outperform English counterparts in phonics tests

Children with English as their second language are outperforming their native peers.
Children with English as their second language are outperforming their native peers.

Children in North Tyneside who do not speak English as a first language are more likely to pass important Year 1 reading tests than native speakers, figures reveal.

Department for Education data shows the results of phonics tests, which children take aged five and six.

Children sound out a series of specially created words to show they can read the letters rather than just recognise words. If they fail they repeat the test in Year 2.

In North Tyneside, in 2018, 84 per cent of native English speakers passed, compared to 86 cent of children where English was not their first language.

With boys the pass rate was 82 per cent to 81 per cent in favour of those speaking English as a second language.

Girls who spoke English as a second language fared better than those who spoke it as a native tongue.

However, the NEU does not believe phonics help children learn to read.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, commented: “In prioritising synthetic phonics above other approaches to the teaching of reading, the Government is doing teachers and children no service.

“Schools are working hard to ensure high scores in the phonics test, but teachers have no faith that a relentless focus on one kind of reading method produces readers who can enjoy and engage with real books.

“The Government continues to confuse accuracy in decoding words with fluency in reading. They are not the same thing, and Schools Standards Minister Nick Gibb’s claim that synthetic phonics is putting children on track to be fluent readers has no basis in research.”

Disadvantaged children on free school meals have a significantly lower pass rate than those who do not qualify for them.

In 2018, 73 per cent of children on free school meals passed, while 85 per cent of other pupils did.

The National Education Union said these figures are “worrying”.

“Poverty makes a huge difference to educational attainment,” said Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary of the NEU.

“Research shows that that children born into poverty have significantly lower test scores at age three, age five and age seven years.

“They continue to live in poverty in their early years and this has a negative effect on their cognitive development.

“Any serious strategy for raising educational attainment has to address these appalling figures.”

Overall phonics test scores have been steadily rising in recent years.

In North Tyneside, 84 per cent of pupils passed this year, compared with 60 per cent in 2012.

Across England the pass rate has risen from 58 per cent to 82 per cent.

North Tyneside has a slightly better pass rate than average for the North East which is 83 per cent.

School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said: “We want every child, regardless of background, to have a high quality education. Reading and writing are the foundations of that education.

“Since the introduction of the phonics check in 2012 there has been a huge improvement in the teaching of reading in primary schools.

“I remain concerned that 18 per cent are not reaching that standard nationally and that 30 per cent of children eligible for free school meals are not reaching the expected standard in the phonics check.

“Phonics is not dependent on the background of a child or on their cultural knowledge or vocabulary. It is a mechanical skill which if taught properly every child should be able to perfect.

“What this gap reveals is that in some schools phonics is not being taught as effectively as it should be. This is why we are establishing 32 phonics hubs, high performing schools across England that will work with other schools, including in disadvantaged areas, to improve the teaching of early language and reading.”