Boost Year 1 phonics skills with engaging activities, expert tips, and practice tests. Empower pupils to excel in phonics screening & literacy.
What is Year 1 Phonics Screening?
In the realm of early education, the Year 1 Phonics Screening serves as an essential milestone to gauge the development of phonics skills, supporting the transition from simple word structures to more complex ones. This assessment is designed to evaluate a child's phonics knowledge and reading skills, which are fundamental to their future academic success. The screening involves a pass mark, which serves as a threshold mark to determine the child's proficiency in decoding and blending sounds.
As a class teacher, it is crucial to understand that this assessment is not just about achieving the pass mark, but also to recognize the individual progress each child has made in their phonics journey. In order to ensure optimal success, incorporating practice tests and engaging activities into the curriculum is highly recommended. Such exercises can help pupils explore the intricacies of phonics, from simple word structures to more complex ones, enabling them to develop a strong foundation in reading skills.
Approaching the Year 1 Phonics Screening with a novel perspective is essential. By focusing on creativity, playfulness, and individualized learning experiences, teachers can foster an environment that celebrates and nurtures a child's phonics knowledge. Encouraging pupils to experiment with sound manipulation and wordplay can facilitate an organic understanding of language mechanics. Ultimately, this innovative approach to phonics will empower children to transcend the threshold mark and thrive in their literacy development.
In this article I am going to provide you with an overview of the Year 1 Phonics Screening, the good, the bad, and the ugly! What is the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check? Why do children in Year 1 have to complete this check?
What do alien, pseudo, nonsense words mean? This overview is aimed at Teachers and Teaching Assistants including those new to teaching Year 1 children including ECT’s, parents with Year 1 children and those who have a vested interest in what happens in schools including Heads, Senior Leaders and Governors.
What is the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check?
Let’s start at the very beginning, the Phonics Screening Check is an annual statutory data assessment for Year 1 children. The purpose is to check how well children can decode words to ensure Year 1 children are on track to become fluent readers.
Decoding is the process of breaking a word into its graphemes, the written/printed, smallest unit of sound in a word, and then blending them together for example shout is broken into sh/ou/t. Within the PSC children are asked to decode 40 words, 20 real words and 20 alien/nonsense or pseudo words.
The purpose of the Phonics Screening is to check children’s grapheme phoneme correspondence, can they spot the graphemes and recognise the sound or phoneme that they make then blend them together?
The threshold has been 32 since the PSC started in 2012, those children that do not reach 32 in June will be provided with extra support through an intervention programme and repeat the screening in June the following year.
It is useful to note that the Phonics screening is checking for letter and sound correspondence not the speed of reading or how easily they can decode unfamiliar words, which are all skills required to be a confident reader.
Why are children being asked to read alien/nonsense/pseudo words? The purpose of this is to ensure that children are not using their memory of word to read it and are purely applying their phonic knowledge. According to the DfE the percentage of pupils meeting the expected standard in the phonics screening check in year 1 is now 75% this is down from 82% in 2019.
What is your Year 1 Phonics Screening Check success story?
When a child is successful with the phonics screening check it is a pleasure to complete for example a child that has started Year 1, with limited grapheme-phoneme knowledge, now being able to read Phase 5 words including split digraphs and alternative graphemes is awesome for them and all those that supported them.
Teachers across the country reading this will have a success story, or five, of their own. When that happens, teachers feel that the PSC is a way of celebrating the progress made with decoding. Ultimately, teachers want children to decode so that they can move onto reading with fluency.
When children are fluent and can read familiar and unfamiliar words with ease then comprehension becomes easier as they free their mind to understand what they are reading.
How to prepare children for the Phonics Screening Check
In Summer Term 1, within the 15,825 state-funded mainstream primary schools some Year 1 teachers, not all, will be moving into ‘Operation Phonics Screening Check’. This may involve various manoeuvres including flash cards with alien words, early morning work revolving around phonics screening carousels, phonics bootcamps, flash cards with alien words, lunchtime and after school clubs, flashcards with alien words, alien words being sent home in bookbags, QR codes sent home with links to videos, flashcards with alien words, parent workshops to explain the process and how to prepare your child, flashcards with alien words, publishers promoting workbooks with alien words in to help prepare children for the test. Not to mention a LOT of alien/nonsense words.
My experience of the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check is varied, I don’t like the idea of 6 year olds having to take a ‘test’, or staff having to send extra time preparing children to take a ‘test’.
However, when I have administered the screening, I have tried to make it as calm and unintimidating as possible, ‘we have seen this type of quiz before’……no stress.
The best way I and other practitioners have done this is by making sure that the children are familiar with the layout of the real and alien words and images, so it is just a quiz that we do and its water off a duck’s back! Does that mean I’m teaching to the test?
Is the Phonics screening useful?
Teachers invest a lot of energy into checking children’s phonic knowledge throughout the year as part of their systematic synthetic phonics programme.
This process is often one to one towards the end of a term. However, some teachers do feel the pressure of the screening and can lose their heads in Summer Term 1, testing children’s grapheme-phoneme correspondence with real and alien/nonsense words, talking to 6 year olds about the alien images, ‘these are alien words and that means they are not real words’ said every Year 1 teacher ever!
Who knew you could talk about an alien in such detail? Discussions I have had about their hair, their shape, their colour, their eyes, teeth, mouth, how they look like another character they know. Children often ask is that the aliens name, how do you explain that one? It doesn’t start with a capital letter. But hang on, isn’t this distracting from the job at hand which is to check that children can decode accurately.
As a Literacy Specialist, my experience of the PSC recently has been varied as some SSP’s encourage children to recognise alien/nonsense words from Year R, some do not approach this area until summer 1, some schools have decided not to check children’s awareness of the alien/nonsense words until the end of spring 2, some schools have been checking children since they started year 1.
Who is the Phonics Screening for?
Nevertheless, there is an anomaly that occurs when children who are confident with Phase 5 and have started to move onto the extensive list of alternative graphemes, make simple errors due their confidence with phonics, how is this helpful you cry!
These children make alien words into real words, they use alternative spellings for example a simple alien cvc word like 'bem' becomes beam because they know that e can say it’s name. If they had been able to take the check sooner, would that child have been able to read those words without having the knowledge of alternative graphemes. So what should we do? Hold them back until June, don’t rush ahead?
Most validated SSP’s want children to complete the phonics programme by the end of Year 1. The PSC tests children on the graphemes they would learn around Autumn 2 or Spring 1, depending on the scheme you use and the progress the children are making. So should teachers continue to teach the graphemes that the children need or put the brakes on and consolidate for the check?
Therefore, not getting to a point where children have covered all of the alternative graphemes because they might become confused and apply different strategies to work out a word. With the new SSP expectations, is the PSC relevant anymore? Aren’t all schools rigorously checking their children’s phonics progress anyway each term?
What if a child doesn't show their potential in the Phonics Screening?
If teachers could get points for effort, then all children would get 40 out of 40. The teachers across the country willing children to do well, in relation to their progress from September, could run the National Grid for a decade. As a human being, I know that I have good days and bad days.
This appears even more relevant when you are 6 years old, depending on the weather, the side of the bed I woke up on, what I had for breakfast, if I was running late or just ‘because’. We cannot guarantee that our 6-year-olds will rise to the occasion on the day. We all know what happens in a classroom after a very windy playtime.
The Phonics Screening Check guidance is there to avoid teachers being over lenient or too strict, tests/checks need to be moderated and consistent. However, 6-year-olds don’t follow these rules, when a child decodes a real word such as blow with the ow in cow, which they have been taught as an alternative, then they cannot get a point as they are producing a non-word for a real word.
Year 1 Phonics Screening, It's a love/hate relationship
Whether you love it or hate it the Phonics screening Check is a useful tool to identify those children who can successfully apply grapheme-phoneme correspondence to decode, an essential skill on the journey to becoming a reader, however as stated above it can become the only focus within a Year 1 class and override everything else including the teaching of new graphemes from the SSP.