The Phonics Screening Check is a compulsory assessment taken by all children in Year 1 attending state school in England (as education is devolved, this does not apply to schools in Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland, and the test is not compulsory in independent, fee-paying schools). The test, which lasts 5-10 minutes and is taken individually as a child sits with their teacher, requires pupils to read aloud forty words. To pass, they must correctly read aloud 32/40 of the words. Some of the words in the test are harder than others, and some of the words aren't actual words with any meaning, but made-up words that see if children can apply their ability to decode sounds to correctly read it, to ensure that they can apply the same principles to learning new words as their vocabulary grows. The pseudo-words are depicted in the test next to a picture of a monster, so that the teacher can ask the child to say what sort of monster it is, so that they do not learn them as actual words.
Children who fall below the expected standard should receive additional support to improve their decoding skills. The teacher is responsible for scoring your child's performance during the check. See the government's guidance for more technical details of how your child is assessed during the Phonics Screening Check.
See also our guide to Phonics.
History of the Phonics Screening Check
- June 2011 – Phonics Screening Check piloted in around 300 schools.
- September 2011 - statutory phonics screening check for all children in Year 1 announced.
- June 2012 – Phonics Screening Check introduced for Year 1 students in all schools.
Why do children take a phonics screening check?
The purpose is to confirm that all children have learned phonic decoding to an age-appropriate standard. The government says that, "it is hoped that introducing the phonics screening check will lead to an increase in the number of children able to read competently by the time they reach the end of Key Stages 1 and 2."
Children who may be excluded from the screening check
Most children will take the Phonics Screening Check. The check can be administered throughout the week, but if they are absent for a longer period through sickness or any other reason, they will be recorded as absent in the results data. Additionally, pupils with English as an additional language who have limited fluency may not have to take the check.
What if my child moves school after Year 1?
There should be no need to take the test again. Their Common Transfer File (CTF) which the new school receives should include information about whether or not they met the expected standard when they were checked in Year 1.
Are parents informed of how their child has performed in the phonics screening check?
Yes. Parents may see individual results to keep them informed of their child's academic progress. If you have any concerns, speak to your child's teacher.
How does the government use the results data?
School-level results (rather than individual children's results) are made available to Ofsted, the schools inspectorate that is independent of government. Only national and Local Authority results are reported online to allow schools to benchmark the performance of their Year 1 intake.
How can I help my child prepare for the screening check?
Your child can be supported at home in ways that encourage a love of learning. Reading at home with your child and spelling out words, decoding them together, is a beneficial way of supporting your child's learning. Try to pick stories that centre on their interests to keep it fun (if your child enjoys stories involving monsters and spaceships then a book about a walk in the countryside may not cut the mustard).