What is the Phonics Screening Check?
This article has been written by Rachel Clarke.
The Phonics Screening Check is a test for children in Year 1. Children take it during June in a one-to-one setting with a teacher. This is usually their class teacher, but it could also be the headteacher or another teacher who knows the child well.
Whilst children learn phonics to help them with both word reading and spelling, the Phonics Screening Check only tests their skills at word reading. This is sometimes called decoding.
During the Phonics Screening Check, children are asked to read (decode) 40 words. Most of these words are real words but some are pseudo-words. Pseudo-words are included to ensure that children are using their decoding skills and not just relying on their memory of words they’ve read before. Because some children may misread these pseudo-words based on their similarity to words in their existing vocabulary, each pseudo-word is clearly identified with an image of an alien. Most teachers and children, therefore, refer to pseudo-words as alien words.
The test itself is divided into two sections. Section 1 is the easier part. In this section, children are asked to recognise simple word structures and Grapheme Phoneme Correspondences (GPCs) from the earlier phases of the phonics curriculum. In 2019, real words included in Section 1 were words like ‘shop’, ‘peel’ and ‘yell’.
Section 2 is the trickier part of the test. Here, children need to recognise GPCs from the later stages of the phonics curriculum. They also encounter graphemes that correspond to more than one phoneme (e.g. the grapheme ‘ea’ represents different phonemes in the words bread and bead.)
There is no time limit for the Phonics Screening Check, but it usually takes less than 10 minutes. Many schools use practice tests so children are accustomed to working one-to-one and reading unfamiliar words. Equally, many schools do not, as the daily phonics lessons in Year 1 already include reading both words and pseudo-words. Whichever approach is taken, most children reach the expected standard. If a child doesn’t meet the expected standard, their school will work with them to ensure they receive the phonics teaching and support they need. The child will then retake the Phonics Screening Check the following year.
Decoding – reading written words
Grapheme – the letter or letters that represent each sound that can be heard
Grapheme Phoneme Correspondence (GPC) – recognising the graphemes that represent the sounds in words. This includes recognising single letters that represent phonemes e.g. e, m, s, y and combinations of letters that represent phonemes e.g. ch, th, ea, oo, tch, ough For example, there are several ways of representing the long ā sound e.g. ay, ai, a_e, ey, eigh (play, rain, wave, hey, eight).
Phoneme – the smallest unit of sound that can be heard
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