Phonics Myth Buster 1 “The phonics tests will be too stressful!”

The inspiration for this blog is The President of the Australian Education Union Maurie Mulheron. I was blocked and a number of other dyslexia advocates were also blocked after telling their personal stories on a tweet about the PSC being too stressful for children. I tweeted a number of comments by parent members of Dyslexia Support Australia, with their permission. It was all too confronting I suppose? The overwhelming majority of parents with children with dyslexia in our group found the suggestion that a 40 word check would cause student hardship ludicrous. Because the reality is illiteracy causes far more hardship including children who self harm, talk of suicide, have school refusal, learned helplessness, behaviour difficulties and secondary mental health issues.


Parents and children enter school with the undeniably justified expectation that they will learn to read. My daughter who had loved books from before she could walk or talk went to school with a spring in her step loving the idea that soon she would be able to read books for herself. Day 1 after the term 1 holidays she cried going back to school and I had to peel her from my grasp.

Children require great resilience to resist the impact school failure has upon their self esteem. In school there is such a large importance placed on literacy and children who are failing to grasp the fundamentals of reading are faced all day with work that they can not do, whilst their peers in comparison learn quickly. Eventually a situation of learned helplessness results as the student will no longer even attempt to do something new or something they have failed in the past. They see no point in trying as they are convinced they will fail. Anxiety will increase the impact of dyslexia leading to a vicious cycle of increased anxiety, decreased motivation, frustration and failure.

By half way through year 2 my daughter would vomit before school, have headaches, come home with severe anger and was lost to a world of constant anxiety. She spent months with a psychologist for anxiety. Remediation of her reading by employing a structured literacy tutor was much easier then the learned helplessness, self esteem and anxiety they still persists in high school. Yet she is one of the lucky ones identified early enough and with a parent who could find and pay for evidenced based instruction.

If you are a parent and you think that 40 words read out loud to a teacher one to one is too stressful then maybe you are placing too much pressure upon your child. A year 1 child if not pressured or tutored is unlikely to find reading to the teacher different to any other day.
If you are selfish and think that my child does not need a phonics check because they have no problems than maybe you should consider the impact on society illiteracy causes. We are not just talking about children with dyslexia. We are talking about a large percentage of the population with poor literacy.


If you are a teacher and your students are stressed by reading 40 words to you then you have poorly taught phonics or are way too scary to be teaching infants. Maybe it’s time for a career change or some professional development perhaps.

The Phonics Screening Check is a simple 40 word check where a child sits one to one with their teacher. Failure to identify children at risk of reading failure has serious consequences.

Dyslexia Support Australia Comments about the PSC. Going back and reading these again broke my heart. We need to forget ideologies and listen to the evidence. I know the vast majority went into teaching to help children. So I challenge you to read these comments and not then have a desire to implement a 40 word check.

There were many more….

Parent comments
“Anxiety comes from being underestimated, unsupported and misunderstood, not from a short screening assessment. This screening assessment done in year 1 would have helped everyone to realise then that my daughter is dyslexic and we could have prevented her getting to year 4 and wishing she had never been born as she thought she was so stupid (and everyone at school treated her that way)”

“My child was in grade 1 when he told me he was “starting to feel stupid”. He was feeling stupid because his peers were finding reading much easier than him. The proposed phonics check would have picked up the weaknesses that the existing testing didn’t. Target intervention could have begun much sooner. When we know where the gaps are teaching can be more targeted. Let’s stop waiting for our kids to fail before they are supported.”

“I’d like to think that if my child now 9 had been screened when she started school the anxiety and school refusal that has been a feature of our lives every single school day for the past 3 years might have been avoided and her self esteem might not be so fragile.”

“If we had had that phonics check in year 1 my daughters life would have been completely different. Intervention could have started earlier (rather than year 4). She might not have the low self esteem that she still does today in year 6. We woudln’t be still trying to claw back the 2 years that she is behind.”

“My beautiful, clever, kind and amazing 9 year old dyslexic daughter told me she “wanted to go to a desert island and just die because I’m so dumb…” I knew something was wrong in year 1 when nothing would click with literacy but no one listened until I finally had her assessed myself in year 3…but by this time the anxiety, constant feelings of failure and self doubt have worn her down bit by bit whilst we work so hard to build her back up with love, support and most importantly evidence based instruction. If she had of had this screen in 1st grade and then the appropriate intervention, so much despair and heartache could have been avoided…. please don’t let more children feel like my little girl does. It is so avoidable and almost criminal.”

“I read with my kids every day! So I would have tested 100 percent. It didn’t improve my child’s reading or pick up his dislexia! What rubish. Only phonics tutoring improved his reading and a phobics test would have meant phonics help earlier.”

Specialist tutor comments

“One of my students repeatedly hit his head on a wall while saying ‘I am stupid’ IN YEAR 1. He did not want to go to school and was experiencing massive rages. Consequently his mother found me; after 1.5 years of MSL he now knows he is actually quite bright and is a different child. Thankfully his mother ignored the school who said things along the lines of ‘All in good time…’. He has since been diagnosed with severe dyslexia.”

“I’m an education advisor. Part of my role is take calls from distraught parents about their broken child who struggles with literacy and/or numeracy at school. I also work as a specialist teacher 1:1 with students who often blame themselves for their learning issues. My heart is broken every single day as I know that most of their problems could have been avoided if they had of been properly identified in Year 1 and provided with the appropriate intervention. None of their problems are their own fault… it is the fault of our broken system. Stop the heartache… bring in literacy & numeracy screeners for year 1 & educate our teachers in relation to research & evidence based strategies. Doing this will help all our teachers, our students and our community at large.”

“Every day I work with kids who’ve missed out on an intensive phonics based intervention that could have started immediately after a simple 5 min phonics check with a trusted adult. They wouldn’t now be in year 9 with a reading age of six and feeling ashamed and hopeless.”

“I’m about to graduate as a primary school teacher. I can 100% say that my teacher education course included no information about dyslexia or how to screen for it. There was also no teaching about evidence-based reading instruction through synthetic systemic phonics. I am glad the phonics check is being introduced because without it, I would possibly miss some struggling children who could benefit from explicit phonics instruction (as all children could). I know the pain of this first hand. I first raised concerns about my daughter in kindergarten. A series of very lovely, well-intentioned teachers failed to see the issue. It was only in year 4 that private assessment revealed the extent of her learning issues, including dyslexia. Explicit phonics instruction over the last year has seen her come along in leaps and bounds. It has also cost us $7000.”

“I’m a high school teacher (and mum to a Dyslexic 9 year old). The number of students I’ve taught over the years who clearly have learning disabilities/difficulties (and I suspect many of them, Dyslexia) is phenomenal. Most of them have never been flagged and have nothing in their school records about their learning difficulties. Instead they’re labeled as slow or disruptive or lazy. Many of them are disengaged or struggling with mental health problems. Life would be so much easier for these kids if they were identified early and had the intervention they needed.
As a teacher I laugh when I read comments such as “let the teacher’s just do their jobs”. If we were all doing it properly this wouldn’t be happening.”

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Dekker Delves into Dyslexia

Advocate for the introduction of the phonics check in Australia. Advocate for the teaching of evidence based literacy instruction for every child in every school. The explicit and systematic teaching of Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary and Comprehension. Advocate for Dyslexia Awareness I support reputable organisations such as the Australian Dyslexia Association (ADA), Learning Difficulties Australia (LDA), the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), the FIVE from FIVE Project, and the International Foundation for Effective Reading Instruction (IFERI) AUSPELD and State-based SPELD organisations, as they all recommend the use of EVIDENCE-BASED TREATMENTS/PROGRAMS for learning difficulties. Mum to 2 delightful, amazing and creative kids. Mum to a kid with Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia and anxiety. Admin of Dyslexia Support Australia Group, Dyslexia Awareness Australia and Dyscalculia Awareness Australia. Board of Directors SPELD NSW 10 Years a High School Teacher All my opinions are based not only on experience as a teacher, a mum and an administrator of Australia’s largest Dyslexia Support group but on research. I believe in the scientific method and the need for education to meet the same rigorous evidence based standards as the medical profession.

3 thoughts on “Phonics Myth Buster 1 “The phonics tests will be too stressful!””

  1. I have been teaching struggling children privately as a specialist teacher for 29 years and the stories I read in this blog are the same stories parents have been telling me all that time. If every one of these hundreds of children had been given the Year 1 Phonics and Numeracy check then an effective intervention, they would have avoided all the emotional and social damage to their self esteem and their families would have avoided all the stress and heartache, not to mention the financial strain of having to find, then pay for out of school tuition. It would be irresponsible NOT to implement this check, as soon as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As an education advisor, specialist teacher and parent of children with learning differences I agree with all elements of this blog wholeheartedly. We desperately need change, we need the phonics screener, we need to educate our dear teachers in regards to what research and evidence based teaching of literacy is.

    Liked by 1 person

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