Phonics screening check


The Year 1 phonics screening check was piloted in 300 schools in June 2011. The check will continue to be rolled out, on a compulsory basis, to all English primary schools throughout 2012 from the week beginning 18 June.

The check contains 40 words: 20 real words and 20 'pseudo-words'. The Department for Education justifies the inclusion of pseudo-words, a cause of concern to some teachers and parents, on the grounds that, as they are new to all pupils, they will help avoid a bias towards children with stronger vocabularies or better visual memories for words.

Letters of the alphabetThe pseudo-words are accompanied by a picture of an imaginary creature to provide a context for the pupil (naming the creature) to ensure that they are not trying to match the pseudo-word to a word in their vocabulary.

In order to 'pass' the phonics screening check, children need a phonics understanding equivalent to the end of Phase 5 of Letters and Sounds, and need to correctly read around 31 to 34 of the 40 words.

This is a challenging target. Only 32% of the children in the pilot reached this standard, although the DfE points out that as pilot schools were only given details of the content and structure of the check shortly before it took place, they weren't able to tailor their teaching and learning accordingly. For this reason, the DfE says the pilot results might not be a good predictor of national performance.

The government recognises these targets are more challenging than the current trajectory towards children reading at the end of Year 2, but it cites international evidence that a systematic approach to teaching reading gives children the best start.


What is the phonics check like?

The process is a simple 5-10 minute progress check to help identify children needing extra support. Teachers run the check. 

It includes real and nonsense words to help ensure children have not merely memorised words. The words are presented to children on a one-to-one basis.

Non-words can be presented with a picture prompt so that children are given a context for reading the non-words. For example, the teacher could explain that the non-word was the name of a type of imaginary creature, and then ask the child to name the creature drawn next to the letter sequence.

The check includes no more than 40 'words'. It is divided into two sections:

  • The first section includes the easier letter sounds - single letter sounds such as 's' or 'a'
  • The second section contains more difficult sounds - letter sounds made up of more than one letter such as 'ch' or 'air'


Will parents know the results?

The results are given to parents but not published. However, the results will be used to generate national standards, which can be monitored over time.

Children who do not do well in the check will receive additional support so they can catch up with their peers. After receiving additional support from their school, children will have the opportunity to be reassessed at a later date. 

Helping your child with phonics at home 

Phonics flashcards
Evaluate what your child already knows. Using phonics flashcards, ask your child to identify each letter sound. Then you can practise the letter sounds that your child finds difficult or doesn’t yet know.

Alphabet puzzles
One way to do this is by using an alphabet floor puzzle. Each puzzle piece contains a letter and sometimes a picture of an item that begins with that letter. Point to each puzzle piece and ask your child to tell you the sound that the letter makes.

The hardest letters for children to learn are vowels, letters that have two sounds (eg C, G) and letters that don't sound like their names (eg Y, W, X).

Word games
Once your child is fairly confident with the letter sounds, you can try playing word games. Use alphabet fridge magnets to create simple words like 'cat'. Ask your child to make the word 'cat' into the word 'mat'.

After practising with word families, you can move on to more complicated changes like changing 'cat' to 'cap'. 

Decodable books

You could read decodable books with your child. These are books are designed to help child learn to read using phonics.
They contain words that are easily broken down into their component sounds.

For books to practise phonics at home, search 'Phonics Bug' in the
Amazon Book Store.

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Last updated: about 3 years ago