Oct 3 2013
Almost a third of six-year-olds are struggling with reading after a year at school, official figures suggest.
Nearly 180,000 youngsters failed to meet the expected standard in the Government's controversial reading check this year, according to statistics published by the Department for Education (DfE).
The results also showed a clear gender gap, with girls outperforming boys by eight percentage points.
This is the second year that pupils at the end of Year 1 - the first year of formal schooling - have taken the Government's test, which is based on "synthetic phonics", a system which focuses on sounds rather than recognising whole words.
Youngsters are asked to sound out, or decode 40 words - some of which are made up like "voo", "spron" and "terg" - to test their reading skills.
Ministers have hailed phonics as the best way to boost reading standards, and brought in the check last year amid concerns that children with poor reading skills were slipping through the net.
But the test has proved controversial, with teachers arguing that it does not give them information about children's abilities, and risks labelling some youngsters as failures at an early age.
The latest results show that 69% of six-year-olds at mainstream state schools taking the test this year got at least 32 out of 40 - the standard expected for the age group. This is up 11 percentage points on last year.
It means that this year almost 180,000 youngsters to failed to reach the threshold.
Almost three-quarters of girls (73%) scored at least 32 on the check, compared with two-thirds (65%) of boys. This is the same gender gap as last year.
By the end of Year 2, after two years of compulsory schooling, 85% of pupils had achieved the expected standard.
Education Minister Elizabeth Truss insisted that the Government was committed to improving children's reading.
"The phonics check helps teachers identify those pupils who need extra help in learning to read," she said.
"Many thousands of children will now receive the extra support they need to catch up with their peers and develop a love of reading."
Separate figures published today showed how seven-year-olds are performing in the three Rs.
The national statistics for state schools in England show a rise in the proportion of pupils reaching at least Level 2 - the standard expected of them - in reading, writing, speaking and listening and maths, as well as science, according to teacher assessments.
:: 89% reached the expected level in reading, up two percentage points on last year;
:: 85% achieved it in writing, up two percentage points;
:: 89% achieved it in speaking and listening, up one percentage point;
:: 91% got the expected level in maths, up one percentage point;
:: 90% reached it in science, up one percentage point.
The figures also showed that the gender gap continued, with girls outperforming boys in all areas.
The biggest gap was in writing, with girls nine percentage points ahead of their male classmates.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: " This test really is quite pernicious. To be telling five and six-year-olds that they have failed is quite simply wrong.
"Children develop at different levels, the slow reader at five can easily be the good reader by the age of 11. We cannot continue with this obsession of testing and categorising as failures our very young children.
"In many other countries with successful education systems, such as Finland, most children haven't even started school until seven.
"Of course it is important that young children are learning and absorbing new ideas and skills and of course reading is vitally important. Turning reading however into a stressful hurdle to be passed as soon as children step through the school doors is a dreadful mistake.
"Encouraging reading for pleasure in our schools would be of greater benefit to children's reading abilities than this unnecessary test."