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Year 1 Phonics Screening Check

Volume 525: debated on Thursday 24 March 2011

It is vital that all children learn how to read early in their education. Despite the efforts of teachers and parents, 15% of pupils did not reach the expected level in reading at the end of key stage 1 last year. At the end of key stage 2, 16% of pupils were below level 4 in reading, and 8% of pupils were below level 3. These figures show that we need to do more to ensure that our children have the skills as early as possible, to develop into confident, enthusiastic readers.

Research evidence shows that systematic teaching of synthetic phonics is the best way of teaching reading. All children should benefit from high-quality phonics teaching, which will give them the tools to read widely and deeply. Phonics is a prerequisite for children to become effective readers, but it is not an end in itself. Phonics should always be taught alongside comprehension and other wider reading skills. The goal is for children to read fluently for comprehension and pleasure so that they can access the rest of the curriculum and develop a lifelong love of reading.

The Government’s intention to introduce a simple, light-touch assessment of phonic decoding was included in the recent schools White Paper “The Importance of Teaching”. The Government have been consulting on plans to introduce a year 1 phonics screening check. The consultation document proposed the check should be designed to confirm that children are able to decode using phonics by the end of year 1, and to identify those pupils who need additional support.

Over 1,000 responses to the year 1 phonics screening check public consultation were submitted. Having considered all these responses, alongside other evidence such as the pre-trialling of sample assessment materials and reviews of academic research, the Government will develop the phonics screening check for this purpose. The check will provide parents and teachers with the reassurance they need that each child has grasped the basic code of the language. In a recent Nation Council for Parent Teacher Associations survey, 73% of parents, from a representative sample of 460, supported the policy.

The phonics check will contain some non-words. Non-words are already used in many schools, and they are the quickest and fairest way to assess phonic decoding. Non-words are new to all children, and their inclusion in the phonics check is designed to ensure children have the skill to read any new word, rather than simply a good sight memory for whole words.

The responses to the consultation repeatedly emphasised that the check must be manageable for schools to administer, and appropriate for children in year 1. We have therefore made a number of adjustments to our proposals to give schools and teachers greater flexibility, including allowing a week long window for the screening check to take place across the whole year group, and allowing more than one teacher in each school to administer the check. We intend to include the data from the check in RAISEOnline for use by schools, to monitor their own performance, local authorities and Ofsted. Although schools and other education professionals will consider their pupils’ performance on this check in light of national benchmarks, this is not a “high stakes” test. We will therefore not be publishing school by school results in performance tables.

In November and December last year, the Department pre-trialled sample screening check materials in 16 schools. Pupils and teachers responded well to the materials. Pupils were not confused by the use of non-words, and the check of 20 real words and 20 non-words took an average of just 2-3 minutes to administer.

The screening check will be piloted in a representative sample of approximately 300 schools this June. We will continue to gather evidence and take advice from schools about the policy during the pilot stage before finalising the assessment arrangements. Subject to the pilot’s success, the year 1 phonics screening check will become a statutory assessment from 2012.