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The Phonics Check for Year 1 Pupils

Cherry Hughes | 01.06.2012

BSA Education Officer Cherry Hughes talks us through the Synthetic Phonics Screening Check being introduced in primary schools in England in June 2012.

In England, Synthetic Phonics is the method favoured by ministers as a central part of teaching children to read and is required to be taught in schools systematically. It involves children sounding out words from their constituent letters. A new statutory Phonics Screening Check for all Year 1 pupils will be administered during the week commencing 18th June 2012. Its purpose is to confirm whether pupils have learnt phonic decoding to an appropriate standard. Pupils who have not reached this standard at the end of Year 1 should receive support from their school to ensure they can improve these skills, and will then be given the opportunity to retake the Check.

Why is the Department for Education (DfE) introducing this Check?

The DfE is concerned about literacy standards in primary schools. Recent statistics indicate that one in six 11 year-olds did not reach the reading standard expected, and one in ten boys aged 11 can read no better than a 7 year-old. Furthermore, English primary schools have slipped down the international reading table. The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) of 10 year-olds saw England fall from 3rd out of 35 countries in 2001, to 15th out of 40 countries in 2006.

Ministers argue that a solid foundation in reading is crucial to a child's success as they progress through primary school into secondary school and then in later life, and believe that the systematic teaching of reading by the Synthetic Phonics method will raise literacy standards. The Check is being introduced to enable teachers to identify those children who need extra support in literacy at an early age and is intended to contribute to an overall improvement in literacy standards.

Planning and consultation with the BSA

The Check was piloted in 300 schools in 2011 and a debate has since ensued as to whether it will achieve its goals. The DfE consulted widely after the pilot with the relevant educational and voluntary organisations. I have attended a number of consultation meetings with other representatives of the organisations serving the needs of children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). After these consultations, I am very reassured that the guidance, which is being sent to teachers who will administer the Check, now takes into account the concerns of the BSA and its partner communication charities.

Guidance to teachers on the needs of children with SLCN

The DfE is sending detailed guidance to schools on administering the Check, and The Communication Trust has prepared a specialist website of guidance on the individual SLCN, to which I have contributed a section about the needs of our children. Any teacher conducting the Check with a pupil who stammers will be able to access this guidance.

What does the Check involve?

This will consist of forty words and non-words that children read aloud to their teacher, and should take them between four and nine minutes to complete. Half the words will be familiar to most children, such as 'cow' or 'blow', where the correct pronunciation depends partly on simply knowing how the word sounds. Others will be made-up, or 'non-words', such as 'mip' or 'glimp', designed to follow simpler rules of pronunciation, with children given credit for sounding them out in any way that makes sense, given the phonetic rules followed by other words in English. Pupils who can read non-words should have the skills to decode any unfamiliar word. They were included in the pilot to make sure the Check assessed phonic decoding as intended. As non-words are new to all pupils, they do not favour those with a good vocabulary or large visual memory of words.

What happens after the Check?

The results will be collected, given to the child's parents, and used to produce statistics on national and local performance and to inform Ofsted inspection judgements on schools. At the moment the DfE does not plan to publish the results from an individual school.

Parents should expect to be given the opportunity to discuss any concerns they have about the support needed after they are given the results. Pupils will then have the opportunity to retake the Check.

I would be very interested to hear the views on the screening Check in June of any parent of a Year 1 child who stammers, as it is only when the BSA has information about this that we can really make a judgement on its value for our children. Please email me at ch@stammering.org

From the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of 'Speaking Out', page 15