The Complete Guide to the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check
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The Complete Guide to the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check

What is the year 1 phonics screening check?

The year 1 phonics screening check is a short assessment administered by schools to ensure that children are able to decode words to the appropriate standard.

Decoding is the reading of a word using only the knowledge of the sounds written down with no clues from other words or pictures.

Each child takes the test individually in the presence of one or more adults. They are asked to read 40 words from an A4 booklet. The words are in large print with 4 words to a page.


The words increase in difficulty as they progress through the check starting with one syllable words, like kick or short, and ending with two syllable words like fighter and reptiles. 20 of the words are real words that can be recognised from prior knowledge and 20 are pseudowords.

Each year new sets of test materials are produced and issued to schools just before the test week. These must be kept securely. Schools, chosen at random by Local Authority, are visited to check security and test administration.

For further details about phonics and how it is taught visit ‘Teaching your child phonics’.


What are pseudowords?

Pseudowords are words that have been made up from the sounds that children have already been taught.



They sometimes look or sound similar to real words.

For example

goin follows a similar pattern to coin


When you read a real word you might use a range of other information as well as decoding the sounds in it.

For example

You might;

Recognise the shape of the word.

Think it sounds like a word you know when you try to read it.

Look at the other words in the sentence.

Look at pictures or other cues.


With a pseudoword the only way you can read it correctly is if you recognise the phonic sounds it contains. They are used to show teachers that a child knows the sounds and can apply them to a word without using any other cues or prior knowledge.


During reception class and year 1 children should be introduced to pseudowords so they can be identified as different from real words. A common error is when a pseudoword sounds similar to a real word children can sometimes make a guess and say the real word in error. To prevent this, in the phonics screening check materials each pseudoword is shown next to a picture of an alien. The pictures make the checks more appealing but they also make it easier to tell which words are real.


Picnic on Pluto is great game by Phonics Play that can be used to practice identifying pseudo words:


How to prepare for the screening check

Give your child access to as many books as possible and allow them to make their own choices. Choosing books independently can be a great incentive to work hard at decoding words.

While they are reading show an interest in what they are learning in phonics. Ask them what sounds they can show you and get them to teach you how to say them.

Restrict any phonics activities to short regular sessions and make them practical or active whenever possible.

Talk to your child’s teacher and find out what they might need to practice.


To help them recognise which are real words and which are pseudowords visit:

Read with Phonics

Monster Phonics

To help them practice blending words together from individual sounds check out:

Reading Rockets

Blending and Segmenting Tips

To help them learn and practice sets of sounds see:

Teaching Your Child Phonics

Learning Words and Sounds

Mr Thorne Does Phonics

To help them get used to the format of the check you can look at all the previous materials here.

Phonics Screening Check Materials 2018

Phonics Screening Check Materials 2017

Phonics Screening Check Materials 2016

Phonics Screening Check Materials 2015

Mock Phonics Screening Check Generator


Above all remember that this only tests a very small section of the skills involved in reading so sharing a good book that you all love as a family should always be prioritised.


When is the phonics screening check?

The phonics screening check is taken in the last half term your child is in year 1. In 2019 it will be in the week beginning 10th June.  Your child could be tested at any point during this week. Schools have to submit a rough timetable to the Local Authority so that a visit can be planned if they are selected for a monitoring visit.

A small number of schools are selected for visits each year to ensure that the checks are delivered correctly. Moderators take steps to ensure that their visits have little impact on the children taking the checks. They may sit quietly in the check area while children are undergoing the screening but the assessment remains fully in the hands of a teacher familiar to the child. Moderators may also check the security of test materials and that there is nothing on display in the check area that could give children any unfair advantage during the assessment.


How is the screening check scored?

Each complete word read correctly gives one point and each child is scored from a total of 40.  Teachers are given strict guidelines on what can be accepted as a correct answer. Children can say each sound separately but they must finish by saying the complete word. This video shows what can be accepted.


Phonics Screening Check Guidelines


Because it is so strict it is really important that children are used to reading words in this way. Some schools approach this by doing mock checks throughout the year. This can be a really useful indication of what children need to work on prior to the check. It is really worth talking to your child’s teacher at any point in year 1 to see what information they have already collected. They may be able to give you specific sounds or strategies that your child needs to work on.

Each child has their responses written on their own score sheet. Next to each word the teacher can record any other relevant information. This is where the check can be really useful for planning future lessons. While they listen to your child read each word they make notes on their technique and knowledge which will allow them to tailor what they teach later. The knowledge collected during this kind of assessment can often accelerate a child’s progress and can be particularly useful to parents.


Regional accents

When the test is scored children should not be marked down if they pronounce a word using a regional variation. The screening check will be administered by an adult who knows your child and should be aware of their usual pronunciation.


Phonics screening pass mark

The pass mark is released after the check is completed but is often around 32 or 33 out of 40. The majority of Year 1 children are expected to pass the screening check but its main function is to help teachers plan future phonics sessions. Your child’s mark and whether they have passed should be reported to you by the end of the school year. It is often included in the end of year report.


Does my child have to take the phonics screening check?

If your child is in a state school in England the check is compulsory. However, children are only entered if they are working at a level appropriate to the test. If it is decided that they are well below the standard required they may not be entered. Teachers can advise the headteacher on this but it is ultimately the headteacher’s decision on who is entered.


What happens if my child doesn’t reach the pass mark?

If your child doesn’t reach the pass mark when they take the check in year 1 they should receive further support from their class teacher or selected adults. This will often be based on information gathered during the screening check and will be focused on helping them improve their score. They can then take the test again the following year when they are in year 2. If your child does not reach the pass mark you may find it useful to book a meeting with your child’s teacher to go over any areas for development that have been identified.

The scores and pass rates collected are used by the government to look at year 1 intakes as a whole and not as individual children. Not achieving the pass mark should not reflect negatively on your child but will enable their teacher to give them focused and effective support.


Phonics screening games

There lots of great games available to help learn and practice skills and sounds related to the check.

These can be played online

Teach Your Monster to Read

Buried Treasure

Picnic on Pluto

Phonics Bloom

These can be bought

(Affiliate links)

Other useful links


Government Phonics Check Leaflet

Phonics Play 

Read Write Inc Phonics Screening Information Video

The School Run- Phonics Screening Questions Answered

Oxford Owl- Phonics Screening Check Questions Answered


  • Kerry
    Posted at 12:15h, 21 January Reply

    This is really interesting. My son is in Year 1, but is still struggling with his phonics. Lots of really useful resources here, thanks.

    • tomrussell
      Posted at 13:55h, 21 January Reply

      That’s great to hear Kerry. Thank you!

  • Nisha Patel
    Posted at 06:25h, 22 January Reply

    This is so useful having the date and all the resources on the one page. Thanks!

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