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Schools minister praises ‘exemplary’ Hampstead school for top phonics check results

PUBLISHED: 15:00 09 January 2015

Schools minister Nick Gibb MP with pupils Zen, Jamie, and Ortanse, all 7,  and headteacher Simon Atkinson. Picture: Polly Hancock

Schools minister Nick Gibb MP with pupils Zen, Jamie, and Ortanse, all 7, and headteacher Simon Atkinson. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Schools minister Nick Gibb visited a Hampstead primary school to offer his congratulations after it was ranked among the top schools in the country for government reading test results.

What is phonics?

Phonics is used in schools to teach children the relationship between letters and sounds.

Pupils must first master the alphabet before learning to connect certain groups of letters with the correct sound.

For example, children will learn how to pronounce “blow” differently than “cow”, despite both words containing the same “ow” group of letters.

The phonics check was introduced by the coalition government in 2012 to monitor the reading ability of children aged six in Year 1.

The test requires pupils to pronounce a set of real and nonsense words correctly.

If children do not pass, they then have to sit the test again in Year 2.

The MP praised “exemplary” Hampstead Parochial School in Holly Bush Vale on Thursday for getting nearly all pupils to pass the “phonics check” - a test of reading abilities for children in Year 1.

The Church of England school is classed among the top five per cent in the country after 97 per cent of six-year-olds met the expected standard.

Mr Gibb, minister of state for school reform, said: “Systematic teaching of phonics is the most effective way of teaching children to read, as in schools like this one, where every child is reading and is an enthusiastic reader.

He added: “Reading is the foundation for later success. 
“There is a direct correlation between success in primary school and educational success later in life.”

The phonics check was introduced by the government in 2012 to prevent any child struggling with their reading going unnoticed by a school.

It requires pupils to correctly pronounce a number of real and fake words written on a test sheet using the phonics method.

Children are taught to link a group of letters within a word such as “ow” with the right sound using the system.

The test sparked controversy when it was first introduced after teachers criticised the widespread teaching of nonsense words.

Mr Gibb said he believes that there is a direct link between misbehaviour in class and the inability to read effectively.

He told the Ham&High after touring Hampstead Parochial: “If any child is in school and still struggling with the basic skill, they will of course misbehave in class so it has benefits for behaviour but it is also the foundation block for everything.

“We need every child to be reading effectively at the end of Year 1.

“We still have some way to go but we have made huge progress in the last two to three years.”

This year, 74 per cent of six-year-olds in England passed the test, a jump from 54 per cent in 2012.

Hampstead Parochial was one of 611 schools across the country where at least 95 per cent of children passed the check to receive a letter from Mr Gibb congratulating them on their results.

The minister, of Bognor Regis, chose to visit the school to see phonics teaching in action.

He observed a Year 1 reading lesson before speaking to the school’s oldest pupils in Year 6 to quiz them on their favourite novels and on times tables.

Mr Gibb said of the school: “Reading is exemplary here and I have also been impressed by the mathematics I have seen from Year 6.

“It just has a very nice atmosphere.We’re talking about a school which goes back centuries, which has kept that character, but is very modern.

“It is a very colourful school in a wonderfully characterful building.”

Headteacher Simon Atkinson said: “The check has helped schools focus on phonics teaching and it has helped make sure the basics are in place.

“Phonics are the bedrock that help them to read.

“We are moving away from, but still need, physical books but nevertheless, being able to read, to read instructions, to read signs, it’s a basic skill.”

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