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Reading test results show girls are ahead of boys in Norfolk

Results for phonic tests for primary school children in Norfolk show that girls have better pass rates than boys. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Images

Results for phonic tests for primary school children in Norfolk show that girls have better pass rates than boys. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Images

PA Archive/PA Images

A education body says schools in Norfolk should do more to create “sociable classrooms” after figures revealed a gender divide in the pass rates of early reading tests.

Data from the Department for Education (DfE) on phonic tests, which children take in Year One (aged five to six), shows that 84% of girls in the county passed the tests in 2018 compared with 76% of boys.

The tests ask children to sound out a series of specially created words to show they can read the letters, rather than just recognising words. If they fail, they repeat the test in Year Two.

The National Education Union (NEU) said the divide could be due to the “quality” of boys’ social interactions in early childhood compared with girls’.

NEU assistant general secretary Nansi Ellis said: “Social interaction develops language skills, which in turn contribute to learning.

“This suggests that the answer to improving standards lies not in more formal teaching at an early age, but on improving children’s social skills through creating sociable and child-friendly classrooms.”

Overall phonics test scores have been steadily rising in recent years. In Norfolk, 80% of pupils passed this year, compared with 50% in 2012.

But this is marginally below the pass rate across England, which has risen from 58% to 82%.

School standards minister Nick Gibb said: “We want every child, regardless of background, to have a high quality education. Reading and writing are the foundations of that education.

“Since the introduction of the phonics check in 2012 there has been a huge improvement in the teaching of reading in primary schools.

“I remain concerned that 18% are not reaching that standard nationally and that 30% of children eligible for free school meals are not reaching the expected standard in the phonics check.

“Phonics is not dependent on the background of a child or on their cultural knowledge or vocabulary. It is a mechanical skill which if taught properly every child should be able to perfect.”

In January, the then-education secretary Justine Greening announced plans to set up “phonic partnerships” around the country, aimed at improving reading outcomes for children, along with plans for a national network of school-led English hubs.

Chris Gribble, chief executive of the National Centre for Writing in Norwich, believed social interaction was only one strand in efforts to improve reading skills.

“It’s much more about how we find ways to give all children the tools and the confidence to create their own path to books and reading,” he said.

“The value of reading tests lies solely in how we as a society respond to what they might tell us.”

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