Getting to grips with the Y2 Phonics Screening Check 2020 - Questions and considerations for English Subject Leaders

    Published: 12 October 2020
    Teacher with class


    In light of lockdown and the cancellation of the summer 2020 Year 1 Phonics Screening Check, schools are now required to deliver the check to their current Y2 pupils in the second half of the Autumn term. Those pupils who meet the expected standard will not be required to take it again. However, those who do not meet the expected standard will be expected to take it again alongside the Y1 pupils in June 2021.

    On the surface, this rescheduling seems simple, but in theory, it has many implications for SLT, Y2 teachers and Y2 TAs.

    Current Y2 pupils will be at very different points in their journey to phonics acquisition. Some will have continued to make progress due to online teaching and support at home, while others may have had very little or no phonics support. It is clear that Y2 teachers will have a challenging time preparing their children for the check, given the wide range of ability that they may be currently facing.

    In this blog, I have considered some key questions that will help English Subject Leads to support Y2 teachers to get to grips with the task ahead.

    One of the most important tasks for a Subject Leader is to find out about the CPD needs of both the Y2 teachers and TAs with regard to teaching phonics. In order to do this, you will need to ask questions. These would include asking if they have experienced or observed teaching phonics in Reception and/or Y1? Have they experienced delivering a screening check before?  Have they delivered daily group and/or whole class phonics? Are they confident with their articulation and terminology? This year, the Y2 check can be delivered by teachers and/or TAs who have been trained in phonics and are experienced at delivering phonics sessions. Therefore, it is key to ensure that colleagues are well trained and feel confident with their delivery.

    With regard to phonics acquisition, do your Y2 teachers understand the difference between the GPCs expected for reading and those expected for spelling in Y1? The Appendix in the NC highlights GPC expectations for spelling in Y1 and does not include all those necessary for reading. If they are in doubt, it is worth downloading the ‘Assessment Framework for the Development of the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check’ and referring to the relevant pages where they will see grids of the GPCS for each section of the check, along with the relevant alternative pronunciations.

    On return to school in September, your Y2 teachers may have received some information from Y1 teachers on phonics assessment and teaching. They may have also carried out a simple baseline to assess where their children are with recognising GPCs, tricky and CEWs. This information is critical and will form the basis for their teaching in the Autumn term, in order to support children to get back on track. This data should then be reflected in their tracking for the Autumn term.

    In Y1, children will have experienced a range of delivery methods for the daily teaching sequence, according to school policy. Some may have only taken part in small group phonics or only whole class teaching, while others may have had a mixture of both. The screening check covers teaching from YR and Y1 so some children may well need a mixture of small group catch up phonics (pitched at their current learning) as well as needing to be exposed to phonics pitched at Y1 expectations. This exposure may well be during whole class phonics depending on the pitch for the rest of the class. Y2 teachers will probably need to plan for small group and whole class differentiated delivery to ensure exposure to all the screening check expectations.

    Resourcing is another key consideration. Do your Y2 teachers have access to necessary resources? Resourcing is incredibly important for your more vulnerable children at risk of not making sufficient progress in Y2. They need prior learning to be reactivated quickly. So if the resources are similar or the same as Y1, it will help them to remember, e.g. the flash cards for GPCs and tricky words, activities and games as well as GPC charts on the wall and desktops.

    Another consideration is to find out if your Y2 teachers are familiar with the elements that can be challenging for some pupils in the check. Experience shows that these elements include GPCs such as long vowel phonemes (especially split vowels diagraphs), longer words containing consonant clusters, pseudo words and letters that look similar such as p and d. These more challenging elements of the check can cause children to struggle to attain the threshold.

    Although, the daily teaching is crucial, application is key. The check screens for secure knowledge of GPCs for reading only. Therefore, Y2 pupils need as much reading mileage as possible to recognise and apply these GPCS in words.

    Developing reading stamina and reading skills will be crucial for the check. Some children with poor working memories will struggle to read the longer words presented in section 2.  They will need to be taught to look at a word first and pick out any known chunks such as diagraphs/trigraphs and consonant clusters.  This skill will support their working memory when trying to retain all the phonemes in a word. In the check, a child must be able to fully blend and say the whole word in order to score and not sound robotic.

    Lastly, how is reading taught in Y2? Y2 teachers will need to check that their children are on the correct reading book for the GPCs they have been taught. However, post lockdown it may be the case that some children will have lost some GPC knowledge and the colour band they were on is now too challenging and getting in the way of their fluency. They may need to drop a band for a short while to build confidence. Are the Y2 children taking part in weekly small group guided reading sessions? These sessions should include an appropriate strategy check based on reading tricky/CEW words, knowledge of GPCs that need practising and tackling blending longer words. Alongside guided reading, Y2 teachers should also be explicitly modelling and teaching reading strategies across the week.

    I hope that these key considerations and questions will guide your discussions and give your Y2 pupils the best possible chance of attaining the threshold in the coming check.

    Each year, I deliver central training on the screening check. This year will be no exception, only this time it will be pre-recorded and accessible after half term from 2nd November 2020. It is designed to support Subject Leads, Y2 teachers and TAs in preparing for and delivering the check. I have delivered screening check training for a number of years and answered many questions posed by teachers over that time, so I have captured my wealth of experience in this pre-record. I also cover the latest guidance and updates.  Find out more/secure your place for this training.

    More information on the Y2 screening check is also available on

    Subject leaders may also be keen to access our Back on Track: English, Phonics – phase 2-4 CPD. This comprises of 5 modules of high-quality training in the form of pre-recorded content with embedded videos. The training would be suitable for use at a whole school training session to ensure that all teaching staff have strong subject knowledge and are knowledgeable of best practice teaching methods. Alternatively, it may be helpful for individual team members to work through the modules at their own pace. This training can be accessed via the CD Hub after the autumn half term break. If you would like to express an interest in this resource, please contact:

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