The year 1 phonics screening check - a guide for parents

The year 1 phonics screening check - a guide for parents

Why does my child have to do the Year 1 phonics screening check?

In Year 1, all children in England take a phonics check around the end of the school year. It's not a test, and it's nothing that parents or children can really prepare for so don't worry in that regard! It simply allows schools to check that pupils have learned phonics to an appropriate standard for their age. Schools will put extra support in place for children who need to improve their skills. 

What is phonics?

Phonics involves matching the individual sounds of spoken English with single letters or groups of letters. Children are taught phonics as a way of learning how to read. Knowing how to blend letters together to make the correct sound allows children to decode the pronunciation of new words they encounter. Check out our phonics explainer for more information.

How is the phonics screening check structured?

In the phonics screening check, children read words and say them aloud for their teacher. The check is divided into two sections of 20 words each, so kids have to read up to 40 words altogether, which generally takes around five to 10 minutes. The teacher shows each pupil a number of pages, each of which has four clearly printed words that they have to read aloud. 

Both sections contain a mixture of real words and nonsense - or 'pseudo' - words. The nonsense words check that the child is able to properly decode words using phonics, and isn't guessing from vocabulary they already know based on the word's first few letters or its shape. 

The real words have no illustrations or other references that could give the child a clue as to their meaning. The pseudo words are accompanied by illustrations, as though each made up word is the name of the colourful, imaginary creature that accompanies it. 

Section 1 starts with 12 pseudo words, and finishes with eight real words. The words in section 1 are very simple, featuring some consonant digraphs and some of the more frequently used vowel digraphs. 

Section 2 starts with eight longer pseudo words and continues with 12 longer real words. All of the section 2 words are more complex in structure and may include additional consonant digraphs, less consistent and split vowel digraphs (such as a-e, ai,) trigraphs (such as igh and and air) and alternative pronunciations. There are four two syllable words which contain a maximum of eight letters. 

What does it test?

The phonics screening check tests each child's ability to read and pronounce words. Some of the graphemes used represent a number of different phonemes. For example, the grapheme c can represent both the hard c pronunciation, as in 'cat' and the soft c pronunciation as in 'cell'. 

Being able to read the words and pseudo-words depends upon the child: 

  • having a secure knowledge of the letters of the alphabet 

  • being able to manipulate the sounds in words

  • being able to recall basic decoding in order to read unfamiliar words.

How does the scoring work for the Year 1 phonics screening check?

Children don't have to say the word straight out - they can sound out the phonemes as many times as they need to, but they do need to then blend the phonemes together correctly as a clear, single word with no gaps between the sounds. 

Teachers should know the child well enough to account for accents and different ways of pronouncing vowels, particularly when assessing the nonsense words. The child can use any known regional accent. Teachers will also account for typical articulation and other pronunciation difficulties for the age group, such as pronouncing 'th' as 'ff' etc. 

What happens to the information from the Year 1 phonics screening check?

The results of the Year 1 phonics screen check isn't published in school performance tables, but schools must submit their results to the local authority.  Parents will find out from their child's teacher before the end of the summer term whether or not their child met the standards. In previous years, the score to meet the threshold has been in the low 30s out of 40.

If your child doesn't meet the expected standard, the school should put a plan of support in place for them, and they will retake the check at the end of Year 2. 

The overall aim of the check is to encourage schools to ensure that a higher proportion of children are able to read fluently by the end of primary school. 

What can I do to prepare my child for the Year 1 phonics screening check?

As we've already said, this check isn't something that children pass or fail; its main purpose is to tell schools which children need extra support with learning to read. 

So this test isn't something that parents need to be concerned about, however there are lots of beneficial activities you can do with your child at home to improve their phonic and reading skills generally. 

  • Read regularly: Build a reading session into your daily routine. 

  • Identify the sound: Maximise reading time by encouraging your child to find words in a sentence that start with the same sound. 

  • Rhyme time: Make up your own song or silly poem where you have to end each line with a different rhyming word - keep going until you run out! Don't worry if you're not creative - just make the story about someone with a bag who keeps pulling different (rhyming) things out of it. 

  • Feel the beat: bashing a drum or saucepan to the beat of the syllables in a word really raises children's awareness of the concept of syllables.  

About Komodo - Komodo is a fun and effective way to boost primary maths and literacy skills. Designed for 5 to 11-year-olds to use at home, Komodo uses a 'little and often' approach to learning that fits into busy family life. Komodo helps users develop fluency and confidence in maths and English - without keeping them at the screen for long.

Find out more about Komodo and how it helps thousands of children each year do better at maths and literacy – you can even try Komodo for free.

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