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Education: Standards

Question for Department for Education

UIN 23515, tabled on 2 March 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what recent assessment he has made of the effect of teaching synthetic phonics on the attainment gap between (a) advantaged and disadvantaged students and (b) boys and girls.

Answered on

5 March 2020

The Government is committed to continuing to raise literacy standards by ensuring all children, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, can read fluently and with understanding.

Evidence has shown that phonics is a highly effective component in the development of early reading skills, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Our phonics performance is improving. In 2019, 82% of pupils in Year 1 met the expected standard in the phonics screening check, compared to just 58% when the check was introduced in 2012. The disadvantage gap in the phonics screening check has decreased from 17% in 2012, to 14% in 2019. The gender gap in the phonics screening check has fallen from 8% in 2012 to 7% in 2019.

England achieved its highest ever score in reading in 2016, moving from joint 10th to joint 8th in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Stud (PIRLS) rankings. This follows a greater focus on reading in the primary curriculum, and a particular focus on phonics. The average improvement of England’s pupils in 2016 is largely attributable to two changes:

  • In 2016, boys have significantly improved in their average performance compared to previous cycles; and
  • England’s lowest performing pupils have substantially improved compared to previous PIRLS cycles, which has narrowed the gap between the higher and lower-performing pupils.

Building on the success of our phonics partnerships and phonics roadshows programmes, in 2018, the Department launched a £26.3 million English Hubs Programme. We have appointed 34 primary schools across England as English Hubs. The English Hubs programme is supporting nearly 3000 schools across England to improve their teaching of reading through systematic synthetic phonics, early language development, and reading for pleasure. The English Hubs are focused on improving educational outcomes for the most disadvantaged pupils in Reception and Year 1.

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