Focus pupils for phonics: are we playing the long game?

    Published: 27 November 2018


    As the end of the year is fast approaching, and Y1 teachers are reflecting on their first term’s phonics teaching, they will naturally be predicting attainment in next year’s phonics screening check. What schools are now finding is that they are increasingly needing to look at the percentage of children that reach the minimum threshold alongside those who score between 32 – 40 marks. This is because the screening check is, after all, looking at the minimum standard of phonic decoding for 6-year-olds, in order to assist with the identification of early literacy difficulties. It doesn’t give you a full picture of the decodable words:

    “It should be noted that where items contain a number of the different features, decoding will become more difficult. It will become less likely that a child working at the minimum expected standard will be able to decode such items appropriately. For example, a child will be less likely to decode an item containing both a consonant string and a less frequent vowel digraph, than an item with a consonant string but a frequent, consistent vowel digraph.”

    (p6, paragraph 5, Assessment Framework)

    This might describe, for instance, the difference between words like ‘street’ (consonant string plus more frequent, consistent digraph) and words like ‘spread’ (consonant string but less frequent vowel digraph).

    As we become more familiar with the screening check’s expectations, we notice that the last four words in each check are more challenging. In the Assessment Framework it states that ‘the words at the end of the phonics screening check are around the level of difficulty we expect children to reach by the end of Year 1’. This means that the children who are able to read these are giving a more secure indicator of working at ARE (in terms of phonically regular decoding) and are more likely to attain ARE in Y2 reading SATs and/or teacher assessment. As we know, for all through Primary schools, this will also be crucial for sustaining that progress through to Y6.

    This is echoed by the Standards Agency who stated that:

    “Although the national curriculum sets out the graphemes to be covered in year one for spelling, it does not provide the same detail for decoding. The standards on the phonics screening check were set in 2011 and were intended to indicate the minimum acceptable standard required to demonstrate a child is on track to become a successful reader.”

    This will mean a change in thinking for Y2 teachers, in that previously they may have focused more on those children who have not met the threshold and needed targeted intervention. However those who passed with 32 or just over, also still have a long way to go in order to reach Y2 ARE in reading, and this is probably also true in spelling.

    Over the past 7 rounds of the HfL Phonics Screening Check Project, we have developed a range of strategies and approaches to help address schools’ attainment gaps. Equipped with a wealth of deep subject knowledge and strategies, we have supported schools to review their teaching, group reading, and text selection process. Because the project asks for a more senior person to take on a project lead role too, schools are all the more equipped to sustain these gains and ensure the improvements are future-proofed and maintained.

    Based on the last 41 schools who took part across 2017 - 2018 (some only starting in the spring term), 68.3% of these made more than five times the Herts average increase, with 22% of the group seeing an improvement on their previous year’s score of more than 15 percentage points.

    To find out more about the project, and to sign up for the next round in Spring 2019, please see the Herts for Learning project page or email




    For some test technique tips and a FREE automated analysis tool, visit this blog: You say potato reflection phonics screening check 2018

    If you would like more information and wish to sign up to the Spring 2019 round, please visit the HfL Phonics Screening Check Project page on the website, or use the email address below:

    See you at the next project launch!

    Kirsten Snook

    Ruth Goodman

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