The Phonics Screening Check – your questions answered

Most children in UK primary schools are taught to read using synthetic phonics and during the week of 16th June, children in Year One will be taking the Phonics Screening Check. If you’d like some more information on phonics or how to support your child as they learn phonics, read on! In our blog post this week, Ladybird Editorial Director Heather Crossley discusses phonics and gives some great tips and advice on how to help make your child is ready for the Phonics Screening Check.

I’m not sure either me or my child are ready for the Phonics Screening!
Don’t worry if you are still flummoxed by phonics, grappling with graphemes or frightened of phonemes. Ladybird is here to offer a helping hand for all you phonics-phobic Mums and Dads out there.

Helping your child learn to read is often hard enough without bringing difficult concepts into the mix. But, like it or not, phonics is here to stay. At Ladybird we know that helping your child begin their reading journey is a major milestone for any parent. So let’s dispel any uncertainties and anxieties you may have about that first step on the reading ladder – phonics!

What exactly is Phonics?
Synthetic phonics is a method of teaching reading. The English language is one of the most complex languages in the world, but phonics breaks it up into simple, manageable chunks. There are 44 sounds in the English language, which can be put together to form words. Children are taught how to say these sounds (called phonemes) and to recognize letters that represent each of these sounds (called graphemes).  Once your child knows a few sounds, he or she can begin to start ‘blending’ them together to read words.  Sometimes a sound might be just one letter, such as t or o, while other sounds are represented by more than one letter, such as the ck in sock. Once your child knows these sounds, a word can be broken up (segmented) into these sounds to spell, too.

Phonics workbook2

There are some words, such as the and said, which cannot be sounded out. These are called ‘tricky words’. Children need to learn to recognize these words as whole words, so introducing them early on in their phonics learning means they can be practised as much as possible.

What is the Phonics Screening Check?
The phonics screening check is a short, simple assessment to make sure that all pupils have learned phonic decoding to an appropriate standard by the age of six. All Year One pupils in maintained schools, academies and free schools must complete the check.

The Phonics Screening Check is now in its third year and will be taking place in schools all around the UK during the week of 16 June 2014. It allows teachers to identify the children who need extra help so they can receive the support they need to improve their reading skills. These children will then be able to retake the check in Year 2.

The check comprises a list of 40 words and non-words, which the child will read one-to-one with a teacher. Your child’s teacher will explain that there are words they will know and some they won’t. The non-words will always have a picture of a creature next to them, and the teacher will explain that the word is the name of the creature and that the child won’t know it. This really tests your child’s phonics skills even if it seems a little strange to be decoding such non-words.

In 2013 69% of pupils reached the expected standard, compared to 58% in 2012. For the first two years the pass mark was 32 out of 40, but this year the government won’t release the pass mark until after the check on 30 June.

There is a government video that you can watch to get an idea of how the check is carried out so you can help your child.

Are there any books I can use to help prepare my child for the Phonics Screening Check?
There are some great books available to help support phonics learning, including the Ladybird I’m Ready for Phonics! readers and sticker workbooks. The reading books use simple language and engaging, humorous stories to help children develop their phonics skills in a fun way, while the workbooks help to practice and consolidate these new skills.

Reader1  Reader4

There is also a set of I’m Ready for Phonics flashcards available to help children remember all the key phonemes and graphemes. The series has been carefully written with the help of a phonics consultant and teacher to give gradual, structured practice of the synthetic phonics your child is learning at school and build reading confidence through practice of the phonics building blocks.

Are there any Ladybird apps I can use to help prepare my child for the Phonics Screening Check?
We have created two apps to help give your child the opportunity to learn their phonemes, practise their blending skills and use their phonics to spell accurately:

Ladybird I’m Ready to Spell!
This app is ideal for all children who have learnt their letters and sounds and now need to practise, practise, practise. It helps children to prepare for the Phonics Screening Check and beyond. The app allows children to complete three levels – easy, medium and hard – in each of the three space-themed games. Children can view their progress in the trophy screen, while parents can see which words have been spelt correctly and which ones the child has struggled with in the user’s word list. This enables parents and teachers to tailor learning more effectively.

A unique feature of the app is the capability for parents to add individual school spellings to the Speedy Spellings game – these might be words the child is particularly struggling to spell or their weekly spelling test list.

Ladybird I’m Ready for Phonics!
If your child needs to revise any aspect of their initial phonics learning then the Ladybird I’m Ready for Phonics! app is an exciting way to refamiliarize your child with phonemes, graphemes, blending and segmenting. Its twelve space-themed levels allows the child to build on skills learnt and to develop at their own pace as they tackle the full phonics curriculum in this extensive, yet easy-to-use, app. Watch the trailer.


Win Win Win!

Reader7  Reader9  Reader10

We are giving away three sets of six I’m Ready for Phonics readers!  Just leave a comment below, sharing any tips that you’ve found helpful in supporting your child – or children – as they learn to read and we’ll select three winners.  Enter by midnight 15th June, winners will be notified by 17th June. Good luck!  T&Cs can be found here.

Update: 17th June 2014 – Thanks to everyone who has left a comment, there are some really helpful, fantastic tips! Congratualtions to the three winners, who have been notified by email today.

46 thoughts on “The Phonics Screening Check – your questions answered

  1. Diane Barber says:

    My son loves to read. I am encouraging him with his phonics by using flashcards and also going through the phonics packs that the teacher sends home with him.

  2. Ruth Woodfield says:

    Let them read books themselves from a young age, even though that’s often making up a story based on the pictures. It develops a real love for reading and books.

  3. Illana says:

    We taught our little ones both the ‘normal’ alphabet in tandem with the phonics alphabet from day one which I think helped make things easier all round. I also started reading to my little ones even before they could focus their eyes, be it nursery rhymes, recipes I was cooking or instructions I was following… all helped foster a love of reading and books for my little ones. My first basically taught herself to read, my second who just started school is catching up fast and my third who can’t yet talk doesn’t hesitate to fetch a book, hand it to me and settle down to listen…..getting them to love books….I believe is the start of everything !!

  4. Nichola Feery says:

    I read to my daughter every day without any other distractions going on. We love to look at pictures and we’ll discuss what’s happening in the story.

  5. kathryn west says:

    I have been doing phonics with my LB from 15 months. My mum did with me , usingfflashcards and I was reading proper books by 5 (ie had to go to Junior school library) so it worked for me. One of the few tv programmes allowed is Alphablocks as it is good for the oo or ee changes from o or e.

  6. Make books a part of children’s life from birth to nurture a love of books. Look out for letters and words when you’re out and about. Read together everyday and make it fun.

  7. Katie Walters says:

    Reading everyday, flash cards have helped, and watching alphablocks on TV, which is all to do with words, sounds, phonics

  8. Kirsty Bridge says:

    I try to encourage natural interest in reading and be patient as learning can be difficult and needn’t be stressful for parent or child

  9. Brittney Quinones says:

    We take phonics flashcards and make word trains with the cards. For example we take the cards with “a” “n” “t” and connect them together to form a train. Then we sound out each of the letters and say what the word is we are sounding out.

  10. Joy Bardell says:

    i share books with my foster children every day and from an early age, we talk about the pictures and the story ,when they start to recognize words we use flash cards

  11. Laura Howard says:

    To help our daughter learn her phonics and start to read we have labelled loads of items around the house. We have done the labels on laminated coloured card and stuck them everywhere!! It has really helped her to learn tricky words and sounds like “ch” for “chair” 🙂

  12. Melissa Kuvelker says:

    I’m quite nervous about phonetics because it’s all alien to me , I was a very early reader thanks to Peter,Jane and pat the dog but looks like I need to do some homework and start introducing phonetics to my almost 2 year old, we have been learning the alphabet but the old way ! So my tip is to make time and go to the Library every 4 weeks , make it a Normal routine so the child knows what to expect , the love for reading will be enhanced

  13. Kirsty Sullivan says:

    Wow, really useful information and app, will definitely be downloading the app as I have found the idea of phonics very alien. This looks like a great and easy way to work with my daughter to start preparing for school. Thanks Ladybird!

  14. Jessica L says:

    My 4 year old is a bit reluctant when it comes to learning phonetics at home (he refuses to look at the flash cards I bought!) so I’ve tried to think of fun ways to learn. One thing we both really enjoyed doing was looking for images of things beginning with each letter and cutting them out. I drew a big chunky letter in the middle of the paper, he coloured it in and then stuck the images around it. Now we’ve done the whole alphabet, the walls of his room are full and they’ve proved to be a useful reference for him when remembering his letters.

  15. penny stevenson says:

    Taking the time to sit together with books and taking turns to read to each other. Patience is definitely essential as is picking the right time of day!

  16. Seema Venkat says:

    I started teaching phonics to my 3 year 4 month old from the age of 2.5. We read a lot & I always spell out the simple words for her. We have various charts, cards, word games etc to encourage her to understand the sounds of the alphabets. Another best way is ‘I spy’ game. We play at home, in the car, on the way to school. She loves it & is able to understand the letter sounds better. We have lot of phonics & early learning books collection. We would love a ladybird book phonics collection too!

  17. Sarah smith says:

    We started with names and then gradually branched out into different topics. Our daughter (3) loves her phonics

  18. Stephanie Tsang says:

    We help our daughter learn phonics by using lots of flashcards and worksheets and reading lots of books.

  19. SARAH ANDERSON says:

    We have put pictures up around the house on cupboard doors/in the bathroom and when we are doing different things in the house we talk about the words which are on the pictures and I find this really helps her as we swap the pictures every few days and she loves coming home from school to find different words/phonics to learn.

  20. Kiley Brown says:

    We started by putting post-its all over the house labeling things with the letters spelled out very clearly on them. My daughter has then added to the post-its when she finds pictures of things in magazines or elsewhere (or she draws her own pictures if she can’t find some). We’ve found it makes for a great collage and because she’s been able to identify them from the initial post-it and add to them herself she feels like its more of an art project than a phonics project.

  21. Melanie Daniels says:

    My daughter is only three but we enjoy the Jolly Phonics series of books as she likes to do all the puzzles and stickers and it makes phonics fun for her.

  22. caroline says:

    this looks really useful my son is struggling with phonics at school so to be able to help him with this at home is amazing 🙂

  23. Carol says:

    I’m a single mum with 2 kids aged 6 and 5. To prepare my 6 year old for the screening I am using her sound card with her every day. This has all the diagraphs on and also shows actions for each sound. I think we’re really getting there! It’s a much easier way to teach reading than I was taught at school!

  24. Cath dyer says:

    Our autistic daughter can manage phonetic words well, by sounding them out. These books help her loads, as she loves looking at the pictures, with the bright colours. And also being able to “read” the books.

  25. Jo Lakey says:

    We made books together, using my daughter’s own words. This really supported her interest in individual words. She already loved stories and this helped make a bridge for her to see herself in charge as a reader.

  26. Sobia Khan says:

    On our way back from school we name a thing (that is around) and try to find & make the sound of the first letter. Then I name more things starting with the same letter and it enhances her vocabulary and boosts her phonics too. She’s in Nursery and they’ve a different letter for each week where they practice it too. Doing practice with flash cards and playing Letter games on her iPad helped a lot.

  27. Angie daly says:

    We’re at the beginning of the journey – my daughter is not yet 3 – but we’ve read to her every night since she was born (and my partner read to both our babies when they were still in my tummy)!

  28. Louise Sahota says:

    We read books every day and my son picks up the words as we read them. He is now able to read a first book to us that we use to read to him! It’s a great achievement for him as he is not quite 5 years old yet!! Reading to children from an early age and putting fun and an interest into it makes it fun and interesting for them and they want to read then!

  29. Rose Wilson says:

    We have used phonic books as well as story books where the child reads one side and the adult the other. This has worked wonders for my 6 year old daughter. Magnetic letters on the fridge to make out words based on sounds has also helped.

  30. Fiona Hughes says:

    Patience and lots of it! It can be hard as they start and make mistakes. Just keep reading every day

  31. Miriam Williams says:

    My daughter is a bit of a book worm; she is coming up 3 and keeps asking to learn to read. I knew that children were taught to read and write differently but didn’t have a clue how differently! Thanks for the eye-opener Ladybird!

  32. Sarka Baran says:

    Visit your local library and borrow some books about things your child is interested in (like dinosaurs in our case 🙂

  33. Katherine Ford says:

    Time without the TV or mobile & encouragement go a long way and regular trips to the library & newsagent!!

  34. Yen says:

    My 6-year-old niece is a reluctant learner and slow developer, especially with reading. I think fun, silly and colourful books are appealing to her but she has a short concentration span and makes excuses to go to the toilet (very frequently) during a reading session! I try to make it fun by creating games with phonics flash cards, and some colour-in activity sheets. It has boosted her confidence and I hope she continues to make progress.

  35. leonie gray says:

    My daughter’s favourite stories are Maisy and the eearly ones are good for learning. she knows the story so finds it easier to read.

  36. Kerry says:

    We use a magnetic fishing game with letters, sound out the letter ‘caught’ then name things that start with that sound & have also made our own picture dictionary by cutting things out & sticking them on a page with each letter on, they think it’s great that they’ve made a book 😃

  37. Lucy Mayer says:

    We always make time for each child to choose a bedtime story, and read together – it may add half an hour to bedtime, but they’ve got such a love of books already that they’re hugely excited about starting to learn phonics! 🙂

  38. Nicola Senior says:

    My boys love ladybird books, my eldest is dyslexic and reading has always been a struggle though he still loves books. We make a effort to visit our library once a week, and my youngest reads every day. Thanks to ladybird for all the books and support materials.

  39. Sarah Mathieson says:

    I think what helped my eldest was reading to her and following the words along with my finger as I read. It helped her to learn ‘sight’ words quickly and get an idea of how to express certain words eg those in bold or italics. I think it also helps with spelling.

  40. It is fantastic to find a phonics site hosted by Ladybird.
    Not so long ago, we had to fight a corner to get ‘phonics’ so firmly into our schools!
    Please check our your phonics sounds chart for the grapheme ‘ure’ which you give as a sound /oor/. In the word example you provide ‘secure’, however, the sound for the grapheme ‘ure’ would be a combined phoneme more like /y+oor/.
    It is more common to find words where the grapheme ‘ure’ is code for the /y+oor/ unit of sound, so I would be more inclined to change the sound example than the word example. [pure, cure, manure, manicure, mature, insecure, demure]
    I tried to find a ‘contact us’ button to send this information to you – but couldn’t find one.
    Kind regards – keep up the good work.

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