CHILDREN in Dorset who do not speak English as a first language are more likely to pass important Year 1 reading tests than native speakers, figures reveal.

Department for Education data shows the results of phonics tests, which children take aged five and six.

Children sound out a series of specially created words to show they can read the letters rather than just recognise words. If they fail they repeat the test in Year 2.

In the Dorset County Council area in 2018, 82 per cent of native English speakers passed, compared with 86 per cent of children where English was not their first language.

It was a similar picture in Poole with the figures at 86 per cent and 91 per cent respectively.

In Bournemouth girls outperformed boys with a pass rate of 88 per cent compared with 78 per cent.

Overall pass rates were 82 per cent for Dorset, 83 per cent for Bournemouth and 86 per cent for Poole. The national average is 82 per cent.

Cllr Mike White, Portfolio Holder for Children and Young People Services in Poole, said: "We’re very pleased with our year-on-year improvements and outcomes in phonics at both year 1 and year 2.

"Schools across Poole have done so well, and continue to do so, particularly in the primary sector."

However, the National Education Union does not believe phonics help children learn to read.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: "Schools are working hard to ensure high scores in the phonics test, but teachers have no faith that a relentless focus on one kind of reading method produces readers who can enjoy and engage with real books."

Disadvantaged children on free school meals have a lower pass rate than those who do not qualify for them with a national average pass rate of just 67 per cent.

Overall phonics test scores have been steadily rising in recent years.

School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said: "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.

"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."