The Phonics Screening Check was introduced in England in 2012 for Year 1 children. There have been criticisms of the Check in relation to its reliability and appropriateness as an assessment for early reading although supporters of the Check see it as a valuable tool in securing the progress of early reading. The government’s own evaluation (2015 p.8) concluded however, that it “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”.
With this in mind, this study sought to illuminate through evaluation, the intended and possible unintended consequences of the PSC foregrounding the voices of those most affected by the PSC: children and their teachers. The study was focused on a range of schools in the City of Bristol, selected for their diversity in relation to attainment data (PSC and reading) and socio-economic status. All of the schools had been judged to be ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted. The study used an illuminative evaluation methodology with particular regard for methods that would enable Year 1 children to express their thinking.
The study has found that there is a subversion of the curriculum in Year 1 with PSC preparation having a disproportionate focus. Test preparation has become part of the curriculum to the detriment of specific groups of learners. Teachers are using the assessment tools of the PSC as their curriculum, including teaching pseudo word reading rather than using pseudo words as an assessment tool. Children see phonics as a separate subject, one that is disconnected from the meaning making process of reading. Children continue to try and provide explanations for classroom teaching with some of these suggestions have possible negative implications for children developing as readers.
The study concludes with a number of recommendations in relation to the teaching and learning of reading and phonics and policy in relation to the assessment of phonics and early reading.