Phonics Screening Check -Information, Ideas and Activities

As an erstwhile early years and primary school teacher I know the importance of teaching children to learn to read. However, it’s also crucial as parents, carers and educators that we help children to develop a pleasure for reading. The phonics screening check should not detract from this primary goal.

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This blog post will explain what the phonics screening check is, why it is used and ideas and activities for home and school to support.

2024 – When is the Phonics Screening Check?

The phonics screening check is administered in 2024 from the start of the week beginning 10th June until the 21st June. It is for the majority of children in Year 1 in UK schools. There are some exemptions that you can find here. Schools do not usually let parents know what day their child will have the test administered.

What is the Phonics Screening Check?

The phonics screening check is a UK based assessment.

The phonics screening check is designed to confirm whether pupils have learnt phonic decoding to an appropriate standard. It will identify pupils who need extra help to improve their decoding skills. The check consists of 20 real words and 20 pseudo-words that pupils read aloud to the check administrator.

Source: gov.uk Website

The phonics check looks at phonemes and graphemes (check out the glossary here) for up to the end of phase 5 in phonics. What are the phases? Check out this post.

The phonics screening check is not an assessment on a child’s ability to read. Phonics is just one skill that comes together with other skills to learn to read.

What do I mean?

The phonics screening check purely assesses whether a child can decode to read real and pseudo (nonsense/ aliens) words. A child may be able to decode easily but may have no comprehension of what they are reading.

Alternatively, a child may be a fluent reader by sight of words with no decoding ability. There’s a myriad of possibilities and I feel it’s important that we don’t confuse a child’s ability to score on the phonics screening check (or not) and their ableness to read and pleasure of reading.

What’s in the Phonics Screening Check

The phonics screening check consists of 40 words. There are usually four words as a vertical list on each page. Words that are real are written without any illustrations. Words that are pseudo (nonsense/ alien) words have an alien/ monster illustration next to them to show that they are not real. Real and pseudo words are not mixed. You get a page of real or a page of pseudo words.

For children who are quite proficient readers or use a range of skills to read they can find pseudo words more challenging as their brains naturally attempt to use the variety of strategies they know – not just their phonics. This can mean that their brain uses a strategy – taught in schools – to find a ‘best fit’ word for what they are reading.

Basically, their brain tries to find the right word from what they know. This will obviously not work when reading a pseudo word and therefore it is important that these readers know that this test ONLY tests their decoding skills and that they must use their phonics to read a nonsense word.

Does the Score Matter?

Should I Worry About My Child’s Score?

Absolutely not, yet I do have one piece of advice. The score for the phonics screening check, although reported to parents and carers, tells you (on the day of testing) how well your child was able to decode both real and pseudo words.

This result should not be a surprise for your child’s teacher (it’s one of the reasons I feel the test is not necessary). Children who have not yet fully grasped phonics decoding skills should already be getting targeted support to help them.

I also feel that you should already know if your child’s teacher feels they are unlikely to pass the check and have a plan of how they will be supported for the rest of Year 1 and into Year 2.

Therefore, if your child scores below the expected standard please don’t worry but be proactive. I would suggest requesting a meeting with the class teacher to discuss. Below are some starting points you could ask.

Meet with the Teacher Prompts

  • Firstly, how does the teacher feel their overall reading skills are progressing – not just phonics! Do they enjoy reading? As I mentioned earlier, phonics is just one skill of learning to read.
  • Are there any speech, language, sight or hearing concerns identified/ suspected from home or school? If yes, how are these being supported?
  • How do school plan to address supporting your child with their decoding skills and how will this plan successfully transition into Year 2 (usually new teacher)?
  • Will support be 1:1, targeted small group intervention or addressed as a whole class? Personally, I feel that 1:1 or targeted small group intervention should be being offered for children who have not met the test threshold.
  • How will progress be tracked, when will the plan be reviewed and how will you be informed?

Some children don’t grasp phonics. This is a known fact. As I’ve said before, phonics is just one skill in learning to read. It is important to identify when phonics is just not right for a child so that precious time can be spent on other skills to ensure that their reading journey isn’t stalled and frustration associated with reading sets in. There’s not just one way to learn to read.

My Child Passed the Phonics Screening Check but I’m Worried About Their Reading

Your child passed the test but you have concerns around their reading – what should you do? Phonics is just one skill and as previously mentioned being able to use phonics skills doesn’t make a reader. If you have any concerns do speak to the class teacher.

Sadly, schools are under a lot of pressure to ‘perform’ when it comes to testing such as this. You may find that some school rely heavily on practising skills for the phonics screening check. I do feel it’s important to ensure children are familiar with the idea of the phonics check administration (I’ll go into my reasons for this more later) but for some schools this can be a heavy focus to the detriment of other application of skills. This situation can mean that a child may pass the test when actually they may not have if such rigorous ‘practise’ hadn’t been in place.

If you feel that your child needs more support with their phonics or reading skills do discuss with the teacher. Use the questions above as starting points to help aid discussion. The whole point of the phonics screening check is to identify children who need additional support to get their decoding skills where they need to be to give them the best chance of being a successful reader. Therefore, if you feel your child needs more support (regardless of the score) speak to school.

This is me – can you tell what decade I was born from the glasses!

Speech, Language, Sight and Hearing

When children are finding things tricky in their learning it’s important to get the basics checked. Children can find it very difficult to identify that there is a problem as they don’t know any different. When I was a child I didn’t realise that I was rather short-sighted. I had no idea until I got glasses that the world wasn’t blurry all the time – it was like magic getting specs and meant I could read the board at school!

More Information:

  • Hearing Tests for Children – NHS info
  • Eye Test for Children – these can be booked at any optician and are free for children – NHS info
  • Speech and Language – speak to Health Visitor, GP or School who can make referrals for this. In lots of areas you can access ‘drop-in’ sessions for advice so worth checking local support. This website is also great at showing stages of speech at different ages.

Something that has always frustrated me when it comes to the phonics screening check is how it is out of sync with childhood speech development. Home Speech Home is a great resource for speech and this page has a chart that shows when children should have mastered certain sounds; f/th are sounds that can still cause some confusion at age 6 and are on the phonics check.

Should I Practise for the Screening with my Child?

I don’t know about you, but I’m a planner and I like to be prepared. It helps me feel calmer and less anxious. Many of our children will feel the same and therefore I feel it’s important to help children navigate new experiences. I think this is especially important for those like me with neurodiverse brains.

Lots of schools are great at preparing children for new and unexpected experiences but I know with my daughter she felt much better that we went through things at home too.

Phase 2 Phonics - Learning s - phoneme = grapheme - sound - stories - resources - eyfs - reading - writing

Practise Papers

You can find past paper examples of the phonics check here to explore at home. My caution with these is that they are often used as practise in school so children may already be familiar with them. However, they’d be great to just show children what the real and pseudo words look like.

Twinkl have lots of resources for the phonics check. There are free and paid subscriptions to Twinkl but frequently on the free plan you get an email saying you can choose a free premium resource – you could pick a phonics check pack.

What to Consider Around Administration of the Test

  • Children are likely to take the test in a space that may not be familiar to them – an office, small group room etc. If your child finds being in new places tricky then it’s worth asking school if they can show them the room in advance. New spaces can look, feel and smell different and these sensory feelings can be overwhelming.
  • Children will be working 1:1 with an adult (usually the their class teacher – but may be another teacher). Again, if you know that your child doesn’t speak much around people they don’t know it’s worth finding out who will be administering the test.
  • There will be an official booklet of words for children to read – you can find lots of examples here. Words with monsters/ aliens are the pseudo (nonsense/ alien) words and words without are real words. It’s could to help familiarise children with a previous paper so that they know what to expect. Especially important as I mentioned at the start of the post to help children identify words that are pseudo words from the alien/ monster illustration.

Phonics Resources and Interactive Games

Phonics Interactive Games

Interactive games that are great for developing decoding skills through play and distinguishing between real and pseudo words include Obb and Bob and Buried Treasure.

Phonics Flash Cards

You’ll find some of my favourite phonic resources here including the Phonics Screening Check cards you see above. The great thing about sets like these are that they are unlikely to have already been used in school.

Yoto Card Phonics

Yoto do a selection of phonics cards that you can use with their Yoto Player or Yoto Mini Player – for more information on these players head to this post. The phonics cards that are available for the Yoto only go up to phase 3 currently (learn more about phases here). Therefore, they are ideal for early phonics work but won’t cover everything for the phonics check.

Phonics Support

You can find lots of different posts on phonics on my Phonics Homepage here. If you’re looking for an answer to a specific question or want advice about your child then feel free to join the new private Facebook group here or drop me an email at lisa@busybusylearning.com.

Free Phonics Resourcs

To access the free members resources on the site you need a password. Sign up to the newsletter at the bottom of this post to be sent the password or join one of the Facebook groups where you’ll also get access to the password. There’s now free sound mats for phase 2, 3 and 5. Access free content here.

Reading for Pleasure

Lastly, don’t forget that phonics is just one very small part of the plethora of skills that come together to make a reader. Phonics, when taught right, is fun! Reading for pleasure is the ultimate goal. One of the best gifts you can give your child is time with you enjoying reading together.

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