Year 1 Phonics Screening Process


The Year 1 phonics screening check is a way for teachers to ensure that children are making sufficient progress in the phonics skills to read words and are on track to become fluent readers who can enjoy reading for pleasure and for learning.


What is phonics?


Phonics is a way of teaching children to read quickly and skilfully. They are taught how to:

recognise the sounds that each individual letter makes;

identify the sounds that different combinations of letters make - such as ‘sh’ or ‘oo’;

blend these sounds together from left to right to make a word.


Children can then use this knowledge to ‘decode’ new words that they hear or see. This is the first important step in learning to read.


Why phonics?


Research shows that when phonics is taught in a structured way - starting with the easiest sounds and progressing through to the most complex – it is the most effective way of teaching young children to read. It is particularly helpful for children aged 5–7.

Almost all children who receive good teaching of phonics will learn the skills they need to tackle new words. They can then go on to read any kind of text fluently and confidently, and to read for enjoyment.


Children who have been taught phonics also tend to read more accurately than those taught using other methods, such as ‘look and say’. This includes children who find learning to read difficult, for example those who have dyslexia.


If you would like to find out more about phonics, visit or search for ‘phonics’ on the Department for Education website at



What is the Year 1 phonics screening check?


The phonics screening check is a quick and easy check of your child’s phonics knowledge. It helps to confirm whether your child has made the expected progress.

The phonics screening check will be taken individually by all children in Year 1 in England. It is designed to give teachers and parents information on how your child is progressing in phonics. It will help to identify whether your child needs additional support at this stage so that they do not fall behind in this vital early reading skill.


What is in the phonics screening check?


There will be two sections in this 40-word check and it will assess phonics skills and knowledge learned through Reception and Year 1. Your child may have read some of the words before, while others will be completely new.

Your child will read up to four words per page for their teacher and they will probably do the check in one sitting of about 5-10 minutes.


What sort of check is it and is it compulsory?


It is a school-based check to make sure that your child receives any additional support promptly, should they need it. It is not a stressful situation as Miss Hardy will be preparing your children and understand your child’s level of skills.

There will be a few practice words first to make sure your child understands the activity.


What will it check?


It will check that your child can:

  • Sound out and blend graphemes in order to read simple words.
  • [graphemes - a written letter or group of letters that represent a sound e.g. the sound s can be represented by the graphemes s in sun, ce in dance, ss in dress, st in whistle, cy in cycle and so on.] 
  • Read phonically decodable  one-syllable and two-syllable words, e.g. cat, sand, windmill.
  • [decodable - to read a word by saying the sounds then joining, or blending, those sounds together to form the word.]
  • Read a selection of nonsense words which are referred to as pseudo words.

What are nonsense or pseudo words and why are they included?


These are words that are phonically decodable but are not actual words with an associated meaning e.g. brip, snorb. Pseudo words are included in the check specifically to assess whether your child can decode a word using phonics skills and not their memory.


The pseudo words will be shown to your child with a picture of an alien and they will be asked to tell Miss Hardy what sort of alien it is by reading the word. This not only makes the check a bit more fun, but provides the children with a context for the nonsense word which is independent from any existing vocabulary they may have. Crucially, it does not provide any clues, so your child just has to be able to decode it. Children generally find nonsense amusing so they will probably enjoy reading these words.


Is there a pass mark?


The check is not about passing or failing but checking appropriate progress is being made. If children do not reach the required standard, then Key Stage 1 staff will be in touch to discuss plans and offer additional, tailored support to ensure that your child can catch up. Children progress at different speeds so not reaching the threshold score does not necessarily mean there is a serious problem. Your child will re-sit the check the following summer term.


What happens to the results?


You will be informed of your child’s progress in phonics and how he or she has done in the screening check in the last half-term of Year 1. If your child has found the check difficult, Year 1 staff will also tell you what support they have put in place to help him or her improve. You might like to ask how you can support your child to take the next step in reading.


All children are individuals and develop at different rates. The screening check ensures that teachers understand which children need extra help with phonic decoding.


Do all schools and children have to participate?


All schools and academies in England must take part in the phonics screening check unless they are an independent school. There is a process in place for reviewing children with special educational needs, so if your child’s teacher thinks there are very special reasons related to your child and their needs that make them think the phonics screening check may not be appropriate, they will decide on appropriate action and discuss this with you.


What can I do to help my child?


If there are any particular areas that you should focus on at home Year 1 staff will discuss this with you so that you are working together to support your child.


Phonics works best when children are given plenty of encouragement and learn to enjoy reading and books.  You play a very important part in helping with this.


Some simple steps to help your child learn to read through phonics:


  • Speak to Miss Hardy about the school’s approach to phonics, and how you can reinforce this at home.  You’ve probably noticed that our Year 1 homework has changed.  This is to specifically support our phonics work and should also inform you of the focus each week.


  • You can then highlight these sounds when you read with your child. Teaching how sounds match with letters is likely to start with individual letters such as ‘s’, ‘a’ and ‘t’ and then will move on to two-letter sounds such as ‘ee’, ‘ch’ and ‘ck’.


  • With all books, encourage your child to ‘sound out’ unfamiliar words and then blend the sounds together from left to right rather than looking at the pictures to guess. Once your child has read an unfamiliar word you can talk about what it means and help him or her to follow the story.


  • Miss Hardy will also be able to suggest books with the right level of phonics for your child. These books are often called ‘decodable readers’ because the story is written with words made up of the letters your child has learnt. Your child will be able to work out new words from their letters and sounds, rather than just guessing.  You may also find the following website useful


  • Try to make time to read with your child every day. Grandparents and older brothers or sisters can help, too. Encourage your child to blend the sounds all the way through a word.


  • Word games like ‘I-spy’ can also be an enjoyable way of teaching children about sounds and letters. You can also encourage your child to read words from your shopping list or road signs to practise phonics.


Here at St. Cuthbert’s we use ‘book bags’ and a reading record, which is a great way for teachers and parents to communicate about what children have read. The reading record can tell you whether your child has enjoyed a particular book and shows problems or successes he or she has had, either at home or at school.


What should I do if my child is struggling to decode a word?


Say each sound in the word from left to right.


  • Blend the sounds by pointing to each letter, i.e. /b/ in bat, or letter group, i.e. /igh/ in sigh, as you say the sound, then run your finger under the whole word as you say it.


  • Talk about the meaning if your child does not understand the word they have read.


  • Work at your child’s pace.


  • Always be positive and give lots of praise and encouragement.


We hope this information is useful.  If you would like to see examples of the Phonics Screening Check or you would like any more information please speak to Miss Hardy.


You may also find the following link useful.  It contains video materials showing children undertaking the check.