Year 1 Phonics Screening

Year 1 Phonics Screening Check

It is important to note that the Year 1 Phonic Screening Check is just that, a check, not a formal test. It is used as a tool for teachers and schools to ensure that pupils are making sufficient progress in their phonic skills and that they are on track to becoming, confident fluent readers.

When does the Phonics Screening Check take place?

The phonics screening check takes place in the summer term of Year 1 across all schools and academies in England, usually around June time.

If the class teacher feels there is a special reason why your child should not participate in the check whey will discuss this and decide on appropriate action with you. The vast majority of children take part in this screening.

What is so important about phonics?

Phonics is a vital skill to support reading fluency. Pupils learn to see letters on a page as part of a code that represents a set of spoken sounds. In developing the ability to understand that code, they learn to quickly recognise familiar words and sound out new words they may encounter.

What is the phonics screening check?

The screening check consists of 40 words that are used to assess the phonic skills that pupils have been learning throughout Reception and Year 1. It is administered individually (don’t worry, there are no exam halls and mass testing for Year 1 pupils). The check takes the form of an A4 booklet with four words on each page.

Each child in Year 1 will sit individually with a teacher, often a familiar teacher such as the Class Teacher or Year Lead and read their way through the booklet. It usually takes between 5-10 minutes to complete.

At the start of the check, the teacher will share a few practise words with your child, to ensure they understand what to do. The check should not be stressful in any way and your child will probably be well prepared for it over the course of the year as class teachers regularly assess and support their phonics.

Why do schools need a phonic screening check for pupils?

The primary reason for the check is to ensure that your child receives any additional support in Year 2, should they need it.

For example, if your child has struggled with the check in Year 1, this will identify a need for additional phonic support when they begin Year 2.

What words will it check?

The Phonics Screening Check focuses on phonetically decodable words. It does not include any ‘sight words’ or ‘high frequency’ vocabulary. It begins with simple three letter words to sound out and builds to more complex words, including two-syllable words and ones that contain split digraphs.

The test also contains a number of nonsense or pseudowords. These are often identified to children as ‘alien’ words and will be presented alongside a picture of an alien so that your child knows it is a nonsense word. An example of a nonsense word would be “stemp”.  Nonsense words can be phonetically sounded but are not real words.

Why are nonsense words included?

It’s rare to find someone who doesn’t enjoy the Harry Potter Books and certainly, you would be hard pushed to find a child who isn’t enchanted by the stories of J.K Rowling. Without a sound education in phonics, however, many of the words in these popular stories would be inaccessible to us.

“A red-gold glow burst suddenly across the enchanted sky above them as an edge of dazzling sun appeared over the sill of the nearest window. The light hit both of their faces at the same time, so that Voldemort’s was suddenly a flaming blur. Harry heard the high voice shriek as he too yelled his best hope to the heavens, pointing Draco’s wand: “Avada Kedavra!” “Expelliarmus!” The bang was like a cannon blast, and the golden flames that erupted between them, at the dead centre of the circle they had been treading, marked the point where the spells collided.” - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K Rowling

Consider how many nonsense words are part of the now-familiar language of Hogwarts. In the extract above ‘Avada Kedavra’ and ‘Expelliarmus’ are two perfect examples of nonsense words. Before Harry Potter these words didn’t exist, yet we can instantly read them by sounding them out phonetically (even if it is a subconscious process).

Whether it’s fictional spells, the study of Latin or scientific terminology, we will all at times come across unfamiliar words. If we had only ever been taught to read by rote, we would not be able to decode and read new words we have never seen before.

Early readers will sometimes learn words using their memory. As we first learn to read, we have a huge memory capacity to absorb new words and some children will simply learn an enormous amount of vocabulary by sight alone.

Pseudo words are words that are phonetically decodable, meaning they can be sounded out, but have no associated meaning and are not actual words. These are used to ensure your child is able to apply their phonic skills to decode unfamiliar words and not just rely on memory.

How are the nonsense words checked in Year 1 screening tests?

As your child reads their way through the Phonic Screening Check Booklet with their teacher, certain words will display a picture of an alien next to them. This ensures that the child realises it is a pseudo word. We will introduce your child to the concept of pseudo ‘alien’ words at the centre with similar pictures so that they know how to respond.  The pictures contain no contextual clues, they just signify a nonsense word, so your child will need to be able to decode it without relying on context, picture clues or memory.

Using alien words in class helps to make learning fun and children enjoy reading these ‘silly’ words.

Won’t my child get confused between real and pseudo words?

No. The Year 1 screening tests make it very clear which words are real and which words are nonsense by the use of the ‘alien’ images. Also, the pseudo words will never contain homophones of real words, so for example, the check would not contain the pseudo word ‘beek’ as this may cause confusion with the real word ‘beak’.

There will not be any two-syllable nonsense words included in the check as the placement of stress is open to alternative pronunciation and this would make scoring difficult. Pseudo words are also checked to ensure that they are suitable for regional accents and remain phonetically decodable.

Is there a score? Will the child be given a pass or fail grade

Again, the screening check is not a test. There is no pass or fail grade. The check is a school-based check to ensure adequate progress is being made and to identify if plans need to be put into place for further support.

The government does, however, set a threshold mark as a way of ascertaining sufficient progress. This is usually somewhere between 32-34 correct answers out of 40. The threshold changes each year and is not revealed to schools until after the test has been administered.

If your child does not meet the required threshold, they will resist the check in the summer term of Year 2. Unlike SATs scores these are not published in league tables.

Will I be told my child’s score?

Schools will report your child’s results to you by the end of Year 1 of the summer term (usually as part of the end of year report). It is up to each individual school how they present this information.

Some may give their score as a mark out of 40, whereas some may simply inform you whether they have achieved the threshold or not.

If you have any concerns about the results of the Year 1 Phonic Screening Check, you should ask to speak with your child’s class teacher.

When does Jacqui Robinson Education Centre phonic support start?

Support starts right from your child’s initial assessment with us. Your child’s phonic awareness will be checked during the assessment, using the Read Write Inc levels and or the Holborn Reading Age Scale as appropriate.

This assessment is used to inform your child’s teacher so that they can immediately get to work, helping your child to make rapid progress with their phonetic understanding.

How does JREC support phonics?

Our Early Years and Year 1 classes introduce new sounds (phonemes) to your child during each lesson. They will continually revise all the sounds that have been taught. The work packs your child receives each week will contain a number of phonic activities, building from initial sound work to decoding two-syllable words and nonsense words.

Classes will include a mix of worksheet-based activities and taught input on decoding words.

How will I know if my child is making good progress at JREC?

Teachers regularly give informal feedback to parents, however, they will also carry our ‘mock’ screening checks at the end of Reception and mid-way through Year 1, to check on your child’s progress.

Do classes just prepare children for the screening check?

Not at all! Our classes support children in literacy and maths and the work we do with children in Reception and Year 1 will cover both subjects. The phonics work we do is there to build a life-long love of reading, not just a ‘teach-to-test’ approach.

All the phonic practise skills we develop are, of course, also crucial in the development of writing. Children need to be able to segment (hear and break down sounds in words) in order to write them. Our phonics work builds both reading and writing skills.

Why do we need tuition?

If you can give your child the best support available, then why wouldn’t you? Phonics is often a difficult subject for parents to support at home because they may not be familiar with it or have forgotten how phonics works. Perhaps you grew up learning the alphabet song and have no idea what a ‘letter sound’ is. English may not be your first language or you find the pronunciation of phonemes difficult.

Our teachers will support your child to understand the pronunciation and terminology of phonics. At the Jacqui Robinson Education Centre, your child will receive expert support to enable them to make rapid progress in phonics and not just prepare for the phonic screening check but prepare for a lifetime of reading enjoyment.

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