What is the Year 1 Phonics Test?

by Anna Michaelidou

We all know how important it is for children to learn literacy. And early learning of the phonics has become a very important part of a child's reading journey. The Phonics Screening test was first launched by the Department of Education in June 2012 and schools will administer the test the week beginning 13 June for this year. The test is defined by the Department of Education as short, light-touch assessments that usually take between four and nine minutes for each child to complete.


The Phonics Screening Check

The Phonics test or Phonics screening check is compulsory for all year 1 children and is used to determine whether they have learnt phonic decoding to the proper standard. It identifies children that may need extra help in improving their reading skills and allows the school to step in and make sure these children meet the appropriate standard.

The test itself consists of a list of forty words which the children read to a teacher and tests the ability to use letter-sound knowledge to correctly read and pronounce written words. The words used are twenty real-words and twenty non-words (made-up words). The reason for the non-words are so that there will not be a bias to those children with a good vocabulary. The non-words are shown alongside a picture of a fictional character and the children are told that the non-word is the name of that fictional creature or character allowing children to understand that the non-word should not be included in their existing vocabulary. Children who are able to read non-words should have the skills to decode most unfamiliar words.

Phonics knowledge is taught to children from Reception class helping them to recognise and read familiar words and to be able to read words that are completely new to them. They learn about the way graphemes (written words) relate to phonemes (spoken words) and how to sound out the words.

The International phonetic alphabet

The following table shows the International Phonetic Alphabet that is used to explain the pronunciation of pseudo-words used in the Phonics Screening check for year 1 children (words that are not included in the test are in red whilst the words in blue indicate that the grapheme-phoneme correspondence only applies to certain regional pronunciations):



Phoneme Example Phoneme Graphemes
/b/ bad /ɑː/ father, arm
/d/ dog /ɒ/ hot
/ð/ this /æ/ cat
/dʒ/ gem, jug /aɪ/ mind, pie, high, fine
/f/ if, puff, photo /aʊ/ out, cow
/ɡ/ gum /ɛ/ hen, head
/h/ how /eɪ/ say, came, bait
/j/ yes /ɛə/ air
/k/ cat check, key, school /əʊ/ cold, bone, coat, mould, blow
/l/ leg, hill /ɪ/ hit
/m/ man /ɪə/ beer
/n/ man /iː/ he, bead, see, scheme, chief
/ŋ/ sing /ɔː/ launch, raw, born
/θ/ both /ɔɪ/ coin, boy
/p/ pet /ʊ/ book, cup, could
/r/ red /ʊə/ tour
/s/ sit, miss, cell /uː/ stew, room, you, blue, brute
/ʃ/ she, chef /ʌ/ cup
/t/ tea /ɜː/ fern, turn, girl
/tʃ/ check /ə/ farmer
/v/ vet
/w/ wet, when
/z/ zip, hens, buzz
/ʒ/ pleasure

Source: satpapers.org

The Threshold and results

In 2012 when the first testing began the threshold was 80% and continues to be around this mark. This means that children need to correctly identify and read 32 words out of the total 40 words to be considered to have met the necessary standard. The test determines whether children are correctly able to identify sounds associated with different letters, and letter combinations, and consequently blend these sounds together to correctly say the word on the list, regardless of whether the word is a real-word or a non-word.

The combinations of the letters become more complicated as they move down the list of words meaning the words become increasingly harder.

The threshold mark is conveyed to schools usually at the end of June so that teachers can then mark the test. Parents are then informed of how their child did although the results are not published. If a child fails to meet the standard they are given extra help in their phonics understanding and can then retake the test in year 2.

What can you do to help?

The best way to ensure your child will meet the standards of the phonics screening check is to enhance their vocabulary. Read new books with them and introduce them to new vocabulary. Play word games with them and make sure they are correctly sounding out the words. There are plenty of free resources for practising phonics with your child; the Schoolrun website offers some great information and the Department of Education website offers more information and some practice assessments. A private tutor can also be a great help in aiding your child's learning of the phonics.