Reading ability is tested throughout school years and was commonly recorded in terms of reading age, although it is more usual now to express competence in reading in terms of readability levels. The Rose Report (2006) identifies five competencies in a beginner reader's ‘toolkit’ which they will need if they are to be able to read:
Schools in England have traditionally used a variety of approaches and reading schemes (these included among others Dick and Jane, Janet and John, Initial Teaching Alphabet (ITA), Pirates, and the Oxford Reading Tree) to reinforce word recognition in familiar and sequential texts. More recently this has been succeeded by a ‘real books’ approach, where children could choose their own books from classified sets, and vocabulary would vary from simple to complex and small number to greater range. The disadvantage of this approach was that children had to learn new vocabulary with each chosen book and this could place some children at a distinct disadvantage if book‐reading was not a common activity at home.
With the onset of the National Literacy Strategy in 1997, a more systematic literacy hour was adopted in primary schools, introducing a phonics approach to the learning of reading, together with individual and shared reading, the use of a Big Book for all children to look at, and diverse activities to reinforce phoneme and word recognition.
The Rose Report suggests that ‘there is much convincing evidence to show from the practice observed that, as generally understood, “synthetic” phonics is the form of systematic phonic work that offers the vast majority of beginners the best route to becoming skilled readers’ (para. 47). Under current government policy, the use of synthetic phonics is the preferred approach to the teaching of reading in Key Stage 1.
Department for Education and Skills Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading (DfES, 2006).
http://www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/rosereview/ Full summary of the Rose Report.