Bright children will be branded as failures at the age of five as a result of a new national reading test to be introduced this summer, teachers warn today.
The test, to be taken by all five- and six-year-olds at the end of their first year of compulsory schooling, is designed to assess their word-decoding skills through phonics.
It will consist of 40 words – 20 real and 20 made-up ones. Parents will be told only whether their children have passed or failed the test.
In a pilot last summer, only 33 per cent of children passed. One reason for the low pass rate, says Hazel Danson, who chairs the National Union of Teachers' education committee, is that brighter readers try to make real words out of the made-up ones. For instance, they were asked to spell "osk", which many more fluent readers wrote as "ask".
"It looks very similar to 'ask', so children with more developed reading skills didn't get that word right, because they were applying higher-level reading skills."
Today, at the NUT's annual conference in Torquay, teachers will be urged to back a boycott of the tests – especially if there is any attempt to publish the results in school league tables.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, warns that if teachers were to coach children for the test, they "would be drilling kids in non-words".
"You will be teaching exactly the opposite of what you want them to do," she says. "You'll be teaching them to non-read." A survey of teachers by the NUT revealed that 84 per cent thought it was more important to teach children to read for pleasure than to pass the phonics test.
One told researchers: "The pass threshold is set so high that only around 33 per cent of children passed the pilot test... Five is too young to fail."
The Department for Education says the results will not be used in league tables but they will help teachers spot children who could otherwise slip through the net.