Phonics revolution: Reading standards in England are best in a generation, new international test results show

The Telegraph reports that reading standards in England are the best in a generation, as new international test results show that the phonics push has led to a dramatic shift in children’s attainment. A study of the reading ability of nine and ten-year-olds in 50 countries puts England in joint eighth place, the country’s highest ranking since the test was introduced in 2001.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said this was the first definitive set of evidence that one of the Government’s most controversial education reforms is working.

In 2010, the Conservative Party changed the national curriculum to require schools to use phonics, where children are taught to read by learning individual sounds and then blending different sounds together into words.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Gibb said: “In the years just before we came into government in 2010, we knew something was wrong with the way our primary schools taught reading; England was falling down the international league tables.”

Mr Gibb said that despite the overwhelming body evidence in favour of phonics, the Government faced opposition from those opposed to testing, professors of education who “had built a career on teaching teachers to use the ‘look and say’ approach” and teaching unions.

Children who participated in the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) were the first cohort to be taught to read using phonics.  In 2011, England came joint tenth PIRLS, which is run every five years by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement. England came 15th in 2006 and third in 2001. 

In 2012, the first year of the Phonics Check, 58 per cent of six-year-olds reached the pass mark. This year, 81 per cent of six-year-olds reached that standard, with 92 per cent reaching that standard by the end of year 2.

Official statistics from the Department for Education, show that 147,000 more six-year-olds became fluent readers in 2016 compared with the same period five years ago.

Read more Phonics revolution: Reading standards in England are best in a generation, new international test results show 

What do you feel about phonics? Has your school seen an improvement in reading since its introduction? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

Are you a trainee teacher, NQT, teacher, headteacher, parent or  just someone who cares about education and has something to get off  your chest in a Schools Improvement Guest Post? Follow this link for more details at the bottom of the page.

Don’t forget you can sign up to receive our daily email bulletin (around 7am) with all the latest schools news stories. Your details will never be given to anyone else and you can unsubscribe at any stage. Just follow this link.

We now have a Facebook page - please click to like!


Pupils go to parents, teachers and friends for careers advice – not to careers consultants, research shows
Remembering Lawrence Stenhouse
Categories: 1st POST, Exams, Primary and Teaching.


  1. Anonymous

    Gibb’s capacity to focus on phonics … the only thing he understands (he thinks) … whilst ignoring all the other changes in the teaching of reading over the last few years is laughable.

  2. Same response from me as to the other article about the ‘revolution’ in admissions ages for summer-borns. Arrogant people who pretend they have discovered something amazing when all they are actually doing is reintroducing what they used to rubbish…

  3. Mike

    This article is faked news! Our position in PIRLS was:
    2001: 3rd
    2006: 15th
    2011: 10th
    2016:: 8th
    To say this ‘improvement’ is the result of phonics teaching is grossly distorting.

Let us know what you think...