Press release

Focus on phonics vindicated by results

Phonics check results show 120,000 more children on track to become excellent readers.

Student writing

One hundred and twenty thousand more children are now on track to become excellent readers as a result of the government’s focus on phonics, vindicating reforms to transform the way young people learn to read.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said the results show the focus on phonics is ensuring more children are becoming “confident, inquisitive and fluent readers”.

The minister said the introduction of the phonics check in 2012 helped to replace “ineffective methods” of teaching that meant children were being “denied the joy of reading”.

Today’s figures show that 3 years on from the introduction of the phonics reading check, 120,000 more children are now on track to become excellent readers.

Phonics is an internationally proven method of teaching reading by giving children the building blocks they need to decode words. The check, given to all pupils in year 1, ensures pupils are making the right progress in learning to read and allows teachers to identify those in danger of falling behind.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said:

Today’s results demonstrate the effectiveness of the government’s continued focus on phonics as the primary way of helping young people to read.

For years, children were being denied the joy of becoming fluent readers because of a reliance on teaching methods that failed too many children. We will continue to challenge those local authorities whose phonics results are below the levels achieved elsewhere.

The evidence is clear that the systematic teaching of phonics is the most effective way to help children master the basics of reading so they can go on to become confident, inquisitive and fluent readers.

Today’s figures show that for 2015:

  • the proportion of 6-year-olds achieving the expected standard has risen by 19 percentage points since 2012 to 77% (nearly 490,000 pupils), equivalent to 120,000 more children doing well, based on the 2015 cohort
  • the proportion of 6-year-olds achieving the expected standard rose by more than 3 percentage points, equivalent to more than 16,000 additional children in just 1 year
  • the gap between pupils eligible for free school meals and their peers achieving the expected level has closed by 2 percentage points since 2012

In line with the government commitment to ensuring every child is able to reach their potential, Schools Minister Nick Gibb will be challenging local authorities with the poorest results in the latest phonics check results to swiftly demonstrate how they plan to improve.

Alongside the introduction of the check in 2012, the government made more than £20 million available for schools to buy and develop resources for teaching phonics.

Those who do not reach the threshold in the light-touch check are given extra reading help by their teachers so they catch up early in their school career, before it is too late.

Today’s figures show that the proportion of pupils reaching the expected phonics standard a year later at age 7 has also increased, meaning those having to retake the check are benefiting from increased support from teachers. Nine out of 10 children now have a firm grasp of phonics by age 7.

Figures also published today show a rise in 7-year-olds fulfilling their potential in key stage 1 reading tests:

  • the proportion of pupils achieving the expected level (level 2) or above has increased from 85% in 2010 to 90% in 2015 - a rise of approximately 37,000 pupils (based on 2015 cohort numbers)
  • the proportion achieving level 3 or above has increased from 26% in 2010 to 32% - a rise of over 40,000 pupils (based on 2015 cohort numbers)

The worst 10 local authorities for phonics results:

Local authority Percentage achieving expected standard of phonic decoding
Nottingham 69.5%
Peterborough 69.8%
Wakefield 70.1%
Doncaster 70.3%
Derby 70.3%
Liverpool 70.7%
Bury 70.8%
Oldham 71.2%
Middlesbrough 71.2%
Tameside 71.5%

The top 10 areas for phonics results are:

Local authority Percentage achieving expected standard of phonic decoding
Richmond-upon-Thames 86.5%
Kensington and Chelsea 84.3%
Lewisham 83.4%
Wandsworth 83.3%
Newham 83.1%
Greenwich 83.0%
Harrow 82.8%
Bromley 82.7%
Bexley 82.4%
Darlington 82.3%

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Published 24 September 2015