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What is the year 1 phonics test? A guide to the Screening Check

If you work in year 1, you and your class are likely to go through what is known as the Phonics Screening Check. The phonics screening test has been around for some time now and is a statutory process for all children in year 1. But what is the year 1 phonics test? We’ve created this guide for new teachers and those moving into year 1 for the first time.


What is phonics?

Phonics is a way of teaching children to read by linking the sounds that make up words to the letters that represent the sounds. Learning phonics helps children to read and spell. You can read more about phonics and the methods used to teach it in our blog What is phonics? A comprehensive guide for teachers. The year 1 phonics test is a way of assessing whether a child has met the appropriate standard of phonics understanding. 



What is the year 1 phonics test?

Officially named the Phonics Screening Check, the year 1 phonics test occurs in the month of June when all year 1 pupils, and some year 2 pupils, will take a test to assess their phonics abilities. The test is designed to see if pupils have learnt phonic decoding and blending skills to an appropriate standard.


When was the Phonics Screening Check introduced?

In June 2011, 300 schools took part in the piloted Phonics Screening Test. In September of the same year, the Phonics Screening Test became statutory for all year 1 pupils. As the test usually takes place in June, all year 1 pupils in England took part in the Phonics Screening test for the first time in June 2012.


What happens during the Phonics Screening Check?

Each test contains 40 words. The test is carried out one-to-one between teacher and pupil. The child must read out each word to their teacher. The 40 words contain 20 real words and 20 pseudo words (alien or nonsense words). The test cannot be administered by a teaching assistant or higher-level teaching assistant.

The test usually takes around 10 minutes for each child and they will be given a score of between 0 and 40.


How is the phonics check reported on?

The Phonics Screening Check is not about passing or failing; its main function is to check that children are making adequate progress. If a child does not reach the expected standard, then the child may be required to re-take the test in year 2.


How are the results used?

Results are shared with parents and used to measure the impact of schools. The results are likely to be used by Ofsted to use for inspections.

The government provides a yearly threshold mark (or pass standard). The pass standard is usually around 32 or 33.


What are phonics pseudo words?

Phonics pseudo words are words that do not exist but do follow the rules of phonics. They are included because they are new to all pupils, ensuring that the test does not favour those pupils who already have good levels of vocabulary or are able to visually memorise words.

To provide context, the pseudo word is accompanied by an image of an alien; as if the word were the name of the alien in the image.

Some graphemes used in the check can represent a few different phonemes. If the child comes across this with a pseudo word, all plausible pronunciations are acceptable.


Examples of phonics pseudo words

niff gick
dass jenk
pell baip
quazz weef
figh moot
soam kay

Is regional accent considered during the Phonics Screening Check?

Variations in accent and speech difficulties are taken into account during the check and pupil’s answers are accepted regardless of accent. The teacher should make themselves aware of these regional differences and ensure no child is marked down as a result.


What if a child does not meet the expected standard in the phonics test?

Since 2013, any child that doesn’t meet the age expected standard in the year 1 phonics test, should then receive extra phonics support. They will then be expected to re-take the Phonics Screening Check year 2.


Are any children exempt from the year 1 phonics test?

There are a few circumstances that would mean children should not take part in the Phonics Screening Check.

  • If a child shows no understanding of grapheme-phoneme correspondences.
  • If a pupil has recently moved to the country and doesn’t understand letters and sounds in English.
  • Children who use sign-supported communication like British Sign Language.
<a href="" target="_self">Talitha McLachlan</a>

Talitha McLachlan

Hope Education writer

Talitha worked as a primary and secondary teacher for 9 years before turning her hand to writing. She is passionate about effective education of children and supporting teachers to do this. In her free time, Talitha enjoys sewing, films, and spending time with her two cats.

15 January 2021

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