X links for student teachers.
England's year 1 Phonics Screening Check (PSC) examines children's ability to accurately decode single words using phonics
their language comprehension, memory for high frequency words or 'reading'.
It consists of twenty low-frequency real words with common spellings and twenty pseudo-words, also with
common spellings. The words in the PSC are changed each year to avoid any
possibility of children being taught to memorise them as whole units.
By the time of the check in mid-June, most year 1 children should have
received five terms of almost daily synthetic phonics teaching.
The PSC is a quick (it takes about 5 minutes for a child to complete), easy and **valid way to identify, at an essential early stage, those children who are in need of extra help with their phonics code knowledge and blending skills. Children who do not meet the expected standard in year 1 are required to retake the check in year 2.
Very few children will not take part in the PSC. Children who are working well below the level of the screening check, (for example, if they have shown no understanding of GPCs) will be disapplied.(NFER 2015. p6)
Note that children's English language comprehension (vocabulary and background knowledge) is assessed in the KS1 SATs
(teacher assessed) at the end of year 2 and in the KS2 SATs taken in the final year of primary school.
The PSC is, in the opinion of many teachers and academics, ''valid but
unnecessary''. They assert that regular teacher assessment is the best way
to discover if a child is struggling with any aspect of reading.
However, the check quickly proved its necessity when
the 2011 pilot study (298 schools) revealed that only 32% of the children
were able to decode simple words accurately using phonics alone. The
following year, the 1st actual check flagged up that nearly half (42%) of year 1
children were in need of extra help with elementary phonics
decoding. Clearly, the check had uncovered major malpractice; the
essential phonics decoding component of teaching children to read had been
missing or was being very
badly taught in the majority of primary schools.
Dr John Rack,
formerly Dyslexia Action’s Research Director, places great importance on the
“It assesses phonics difficulties that can be masked by good sight-word reading. Unless children can be helped to ‘crack the code’ of letters and sounds, learning will progress very slowly and unreliably”
After the first check some teachers complained that children whom they judged as 'good readers', including a few they had registered as gifted and talented for reading, did badly. A
year 1 teacher grumbled, "I had over 50% of my class fail the check and, given some of the children are reading above the level they should be in Year 2, to have to report to their parents that they have not met the standard in decoding seems ridiculous. Many children made mistakes trying to turn pseudo words into real words - 'strom' became 'storm'. The lack of context meant many children made mistakes they would not have made if the word was in a sentence - read 'shine' as 'shin'." (London Evening Standard 03/09/2012)
The phonics screening check 2012 technical report provided evidence that
there was little basis for the argument given above, that good readers
(fluent and accurate decoders) did fine on the real words but fell down on
the non-words because they are so used to reading for meaning. If children
were competent decoders they did well on both non-words and real words, and if they are poor decoders they did badly on both types (see link below
The NFER's third independent report on the PSC confirmed the technical
report's finding: ''Over the course of the study, a small number of respondents have expressed concerns that the check disadvantages higher achieving readers. However, as reported in Chapter 2, the analysis of the NPD data found no identifiable pattern of poorer performance on the check than expected in those children who are already fluent readers''(NFER PSC report 2015 p10)
Another complaint about the PSC is that teachers are expected to administer
and mark it but are not given the 'pass mark' in advance. This, critics say,
shows that the DfE doesn't trust teachers. During the first two years of the
PSC the DfE did publish the pass mark ahead of time. Both years, when the
national results were published, it was clear that wide-spread mark manipulation had occurred -see graphs in Prof.Bishop's post:
Note, the check is not strictly diagnostic and its purpose is to quickly
identify children at risk of decoding difficulties. Teachers will need to thoroughly assess the phonics code knowledge and blending skills of each child who doesn't reach the
expected level. Once assessed, a tailored synthetic phonics intervention needs to be put into place rapidly to remediate the deficiency.
Interpreting and responding to the results of the phonics check.
If a significant percentage of Y1 children in your school fail to reach the expected standard in the phonics screening check,
don't kill the messenger. Instead, look closely at your synthetic phonics provision. Most importantly, ensure that all decoding throughout the day is done through phonics alone and not through a range of strategies.
Australian professor Pamela Snow explains why the PSC is a good idea:
stakeholders who are concerned about children’s unnecessary academic
under-achievement and ultimate failure are on-board with the evidence
that a Phonics Check is an appropriate intervention to raise awareness
about, and address:
- Uneven knowledge on what effective phonics instruction actually means.
- The fact that teaching below the word level in a systematic way helps
children to learn and apply critical de-coding skills that we all need in
order to be effective and efficient readers.
- The role of effective phonics instruction at the outset in setting the
overwhelming majority of children up for academic success – not just those
who come from linguistically enriching home environments, with shelves
groaning with often-read books.
- The role of accurate and timely feedback on student learning to inform
and influence teacher practices.
importance of getting early instruction right, rather than applying costly
band aids after the fact, when early instruction has not been optimal, as
Dr Misty Adoniou’s perplexing suggestion that rather than a Phonics
Check, we should wait until failure is deeply entrenched at Year 4.
importance of rigorous translation of research evidence into classroom
practice. We don’t need more evidence in this space; we simply need more
on-the-ground application of the rich body of evidence sitting at our
Nonsense words = words we haven't met yet. Alison Clarke of Spelfabet.
Prof. Snow responds to common arguments made by those who oppose the
introduction of a phonics check in Australia.
Experienced teachers who use synthetic phonics say that it's unnecessary
to use nonsense/pseudo words in lessons or for homework to practise for the check. Elizabeth Nonweiler points out that there are plenty of real words even able six year olds are unlikely to have come across before. She recommends that they read one of these a day that fits in with what is being taught that day. Then they will get plenty of the practice they need to read the non-words in the phonics check and increase their language comprehension.
Here are some examples for practising reading the graphemes that children are expected to know (the common pronunciations) for the phonics check:
newt scribe farthing sphinx paw ploy tar ail glide joist prime glade void adorn croak gloat shoal shorn theme thorax bait twine plight mope probe hark yarn larva moat curd lurch spurn bane dale stoat hake abode
In May 2013 the government published NFER's first independent evaluation of the PSC: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/evaluation-of-the-phonics-screening-check-first-interim-report
The following is on p.23: 'A high proportion of schools are clearly teaching phonics, but not necessarily in the way a systematic synthetic approach would prescribe'' [bold in original] The report also noted that ‘The most frequently used ‘core’ phonics programme was Letters and Sounds’. In the L&S 'Notes of Guidance' booklet it states that children should not be taught to use other strategies for decoding (p.12).
In a blog post on the 2013 NFER report, Mike Lloyd-Jones noted that, ''the report is also a warning of how far we still have to go to develop a teaching profession that, as a matter of course, has the understanding and the skills needed to teach reading properly'' http://www.phonicsblog.co.uk/#/blog/4565770755/The-NFER-turns-over-a-stone.../6223512
The second (2014) NFER report http://goo.gl/MpNsl1 flagged up yet again that most teaching was still not consistent with a genuine ‘systematic synthetic phonics approach’- on p28: ''However, 90 per cent also ‘agreed’ or ‘agreed somewhat’ with the statement that a variety of different methods should be used to teach children to decode words. These percentages mirror almost exactly last year’s findings, and indicate that most teachers do not see a commitment to systematic synthetic phonics as incompatible with the teaching of other decoding strategies''
Many primary teachers remain sceptical about synthetic phonics and the PSC. They expressed anger about the check when they read in the final 2015 NFER PSC report ''(T)he evidence suggests that the introduction of the check has had an impact on pupils attainment in phonics, but not (or not yet) on their attainment in literacy'' (p11)
In this post John Walker explains why the check has yet to have an impact
on pupils attainment in the KS2 SATs.
Gordon Askew points out, ''that success in the Y1 PSC, whilst indubitably a vitally important indicator, does not in itself guarantee application of SSP as the
route to decoding all unknown words. Here in UK at least, we have some
schools that teach discrete phonics well enough to give children success the
the check, but still encourage the use of multi-cueing when the same
children are practising reading''
X Why is synthetic phonics teaching not impacting?
The phonics sceptics should note that, ''Some 99% of pupils who had passed the phonics check in year one went on to meet or exceed the government’s benchmark levels for reading [comprehension] in year two, compared with only a third of pupils who had failed the check – suggesting a possible association between successful phonics teaching and later levels of literacy'' (Richard Adams.Guardian Education 25/9/14)
In 2016, 1138 schools had at least 95% of their pupils achieving the
phonics standard in year 1. 386 schools achieved 100%.
That poverty is not a bar to achieving excellent results
in the PSC is exemplified by the ARK chain of academies. ARK schools are
located in areas serving many pupils on free school meals. 88% of students
at ARK schools passed the phonics check in 2014, well above the national
average of 74%. Three ARK schools got 100% pass rates.
A final important point: Most of the words in the check use common
spellings found at the initial / simple alphabetic code stage of phonics
teaching. Debbie Hepplewhite worries that, ''teachers will be overly confident
that children are 'OK' if they have reached the benchmark at the end of Y1
without being sufficiently aware that this does not mean that such children
know the alphabetic code letter/s-sound correspondences comprehensively
enough''. As Jim Curran says, ''There is presently a danger that many stop
teaching synthetic phonics once the PSC is done and over with in Y1 and the
advanced code never gets thoroughly taught – fine for the ‘boot-strapper
kids’, but many children need direct and systematic teaching of all the
The usefulness of
pseudo-words. ''there is an "incredible potency of
pseudoword reading as a predictor of reading difficulty"
The arguments against the PSC have been discredited.
Comprehensive report: Why Australia should adopt the PSC
An Australian primary school is using England's PSC.
X What is the Phonics Screening Check for?
What people need to know about the use of pseudo, or 'nonsense' words in
''(T)he prolific production and use of
nonsense words based on illegal/inappropriate spelling patterns lays bare
the lack of professional knowledge and understanding of
phonics teaching and practice''
''This test is quick, objective, and based on a model of reading (the Simple
View) which stands up to scientific scrutiny, unlike the widely-used but
slow and subjective Running Record, which is based on a model of reading so
far from reality that nobody has ever come forward to admit they made it
statistics: Phonics screening check and NC KS1 assessments 2016.
X Year 1 Phonics screening check
X 2. Phonics screening -why read nonsense?
X 3. Phonics screening -what next?
Free downloads of the DfE's past phonics screening check materials
This document lists all the GPCs (with word examples) which may appear in
words, in the check. Note, the GPCs used in the check are necessarily
restricted to those that should have been taught by the summer of Y1, based on
the teaching progression of a range of synthetic phonics programmes.
N.B. not to be used as a curriculum for teaching.
Maggie Snowling et al's study focused on the reliability and validity of the year one phonics screening check.
''We have shown that the new phonics screening check is a **valid measure of phonic skills and is sensitive to identifying children at risk of reading difficulties. Its slight tendency to overestimate the prevalence of at-risk readers (as compared with standardised tests of reading accuracy and fluency) is arguably a favourable property for a screening instrument. We agree that early rigorous assessment of phonic skills is important for the timely identification of word reading difficulties''
John Walker comments on the Journal of Research in Reading report on the phonics screening check:
Authors Roald Dahl and Lewis Carroll were keen users of nonsense