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Your Complete Guide to the Phonics Screening Check

Apr 30th 2024

With the Easter holidays a distant memory, the focus for Y1 teachers will be on the upcoming Phonics Screening Check. This year this falls on the week commencing 10th June with materials due out by the end of May.

Although many schools are now following a validated SSP programme (who will be ensuring that your pupils are test ready), it is worth just reminding ourselves of some of the key features of the check, how to administer, how to prepare your pupils and what to do afterwards.

What is the phonics screening check?

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. 

STA November 2023

If we remember that phonics is a strategy we use when we come across words we have not read before and cannot automatically decode, this makes sense. The appropriate standard will allow pupils to develop their fluency skills which will in turn lead to a greater focus on comprehension skills (as they are not using up time and effort to decode the words first).

What is included in the check?

The check asks pupils to read 40 words – half of which are ‘pseudo words’. The STA guidance on the structure and content of the check (last updated March 2022) suggest the following:

Although you will be teaching beyond this in your SSP programmes, it is worth bearing in mind how the test is produced and the links with the national curriculum for Y1 and the Letters and Sounds framework.

Who completes the check?

The test guidance states that:

All pupils who will reach the age of 6 by the end of 2023/2024 academic year must take the test.

The landscape of our school communities is constantly changing and you may have some pupils who are exempt from this e.g.

  • Pupils who have no understanding of GPCs or have not completed the first year of KS1 English programme of study
  • Pupils with limited fluency in English e.g. a child who has recently moved to the country
  • Pupils who use BSL to spell out individual letters
  • Pupils who are non-verbal or electively mute

If you are not sure whether to disapply a pupil form the check, you can seek further advice form STA. Any decisions need to be made alongside your headteacher and it is worth noting that these pupils will still be reported upon and have an impact on LA data.

Remember, also any Y2 pupils who did not meet the expected standard in 2022/2023 will also need to take the check again this year.

Who administers the check?

Best practice is for the class teacher to undertake the test as they know the pupils well and they have the subject knowledge to make on the spot decision on the scoring (which we will cover later). Generally, it is suggested that TAs do not deliver the test. However, in many schools there are highly skilled staff who take responsibility for phonics. If they are highly trained in phonics and know the pupils well, this can be allowed.

Making adaptations

For many, the check will run as it is designed and here will be no need for adaptations. Some pupils however would benefit from changes. Anything which would be normal classroom practice for a child is allowed. This may include:

  • Rest breaks (away from the rest of the class)
  • Sound buttons (added by the pupil but with a new set of resources needed for the next pupil)
  • Visual phonics
  • Cued speech (for pupils with a hearing impairment)
  • Change of font (the standard font is ‘Sassoon Infant’, style ‘regular’)
  • Change of font size (the standard size is 60)
  • Having fewer words per page
  • Coloured overlays

How is the test marked?

As previously mentioned, professional judgement and a sound knowledge of phonics is required when marking the test. Pupils cannot be prompted or asked to repeat their answers so it is important that you are confident to make on the spot decisions about whether it is a correct or incorrect response. It would be advisable to watch the supporting video especially if you are new to the screening check (a transcript is also available).

Here are some of the general notes with regards to marking from the administration guidance:

  • if a pupil sounds out the phonemes but does not blend the word, you must not prompt them to do so, and you must score as incorrect
  • pupils may elongate phonemes but if they leave gaps between phonemes and do not blend them, you must score as incorrect
  • alternative pronunciations when deciding whether a response is correct – for real words, you must mark inappropriate grapheme-phoneme correspondences as incorrect – for example, reading ‘blow’ to rhyme with ‘cow’ would be incorrect
  • you can allow alternative pronunciations of graphemes in pseudo-words – the scoring guidance gives some alternative pronunciations, but the list of acceptable pronunciations is not exhaustive
  • a pupil’s accent when deciding whether a response is acceptable – there must be no bias for or against a pupil with a particular accent, and pupils can use any acceptable regional pronunciation even if it is not within their usual accent
  • any pronunciation difficulties when deciding whether a response is acceptable – for example, a pupil unable to form the ‘th’ sound who instead usually says ‘f’ should have this scored as correct
  • if a pupil shows their ability to decode by revising an attempt, you must mark this as correct – you should not, however, prompt pupils to “have another go” and must score the final attempt even if this is incorrect and a previous attempt was correct

How can you support your pupils?

By now, all the teaching content for the PSC has been delivered. The focus now needs to be on consolidation through the revision of strategies and GPCs. You will probably have been conducting mock tests throughout the year to see how pupils are doing (as a general rule 26+ in February would be on track based on a pass mark of 32). Many SSP programmes will be focussing on this revision but here are a few more things to be mindful of:

  • Revise Y1 teaching (particularly the new graphemes for reading) and ensure all pupils are exposed to this revision
  • Practise the reading of polysyllabic words and the associated strategies
  • Expose pupils to different fonts – or consider adapting the materials
  • Share with pupils the idea of nonsense words and strategies for reading (sound out phonemes and blend – avoid speedy reading)
  • Develop fluency of reading with whole words (don’t always show words made with flashcards/magnetic letters)
  • Recap strategies for whole word reading linked to your SSP programme
  • Wean pupils off using sound buttons (it is easier if they don’t require them in the check)
  • Consider an additional 10 minute a day booster session for all pupils
  • Send home information regarding the check and keep parents informed
  • Utilise the resources from your SSP programme
  • Ensure the books being sent home allow pupils to practise the GPCs they know (and that parents clearly understand the purpose of a decodable text)

After the check

The pass mark will not be revealed until the end of the 2-week window for administration. When this is known, your pupils will have either achieved the standard or would be working towards. Parents need to be informed of the outcome (usually as part of the end of year report) and a clear plan of support needs to be put in place for those who have not achieved the pass mark. These pupils will also need to retake the check in 2025.

For those who do pass, this is not the end of their phonics journey and you will want to focus in on fluency (as the check is not a test of this). You will also want to consolidate any areas of the check pupils found difficult (even if they passed) to ensure they are ready for Y2 where the focus will turn to comprehension. Here are out final tips and things to consider after the check:

  • Don’t assume a pupil is a fluent reader once they have passed the test – this is not a test of fluency
  • Continue to provide all pupils with texts linked to their GPC knowledge until they are confident and comfortable readers
  • Focus your teaching practice on fluency (accuracy + speed)
  • Consolidate any gaps from the check to ensure pupils are Y2 ready

 

Good luck to all schools and their pupils. Over the last few years, it has been a privilege to see the development in phonics and the effect on pupils’ reading skills.

If you want to discuss anything further, please do get in touch with sian@theliteracycompany.co.uk