Phonics screening check: Ten ideas to support pupils

Written by: Nicola Romaine | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

With the annual phonics screening check around the corner, Nicola Romaine offers some top tips for teachers to support all primary children, whatever their ability, with their phonics learning

As many of you will have marked in your calendar, the year 1 phonics screening check is next month, taking place the week of June 12 (STA, 2023). Here follows some top tips to help schools prepare and to support your pupils.

Think: fun

There is a bigger picture behind the phonics screening check. This is a national test, but it is also a chance to ignite a love of words, books and reading. This is especially true for the 20% of children aged 5 to 8 who don’t have books of their own (Cole et al, 2022).

To help fan the flames for an early love of words through phonics, opt for teaching resources that are bright, colourful, and engaging to best hold children’s attention in sessions. Encourage positive messaging from staff too. As momentum builds ahead of the phonics screening check, feedback that rewards effort and recognises progress, especially among learners who are struggling, could go a very long way.

Work mindfully around pseudo-words

In the phonics screening check imaginary creatures are used in conjunction with pseudo-words to help children recognise that what they are decoding are not real words and to minimise their confusion. Are you using the same types of images during phonics revision? If not, it could be helpful to correct this, particularly for pupils who learn visually.

Ensuring that all pseudo-word imagery used during preparation for the phonics screening check is presented in a similar imaginary context, such as an alien world, will help children to better understand the concept.

Test new tech

It is exciting to see many new edtech solutions for phonics learning out there. Try decodable phonics books with “read to me” functions. These allow children to make progress when they are stuck by having the book read the text back to them. Interactive games are engaging too and can support correct pronunciation as well as providing the ability to test understanding. Explore, discover, and learn what works best for your school.

Vary practice periods

We can make phonics more interesting for pupils by varying the way in which it is taught. In addition to your regular phonics routine, try some bite-sized activities that provide practice little and often.

For example, encourage staff to keep a set of grapheme cards by the classroom door, giving pupils access to a quick revision session while they are lining up before break-time. Or add some fun phonics revision to registration, or to round off a day in class.

Make the most of mocks

Phonics mock tests can be a valuable tool to tell you which children need support and how. Keep them as close to the real thing and help familiarise pupils with what is to come. Ensure that your mocks:

  • Are taken individually.
  • Last for 5 to 10 minutes (although there is no time limit in the phonics screening check).
  • Include four words per test.

Staff can also give each child a brief rest break at the end of each page if necessary.

Offer interventions

Your school may already have upped phonics sessions to two a day by this point in the year – but further interventions will be key for some pupils. Focus your support on children at risk of falling behind and use one-to-one or small-group interventions as and where resources allow; these are a great way to practise blending, focus on gaps in grapheme knowledge, and consolidate what children know.

Incorporate inclusive resources

A question for every subject and in literacy especially: is every learner seeing themselves and their family represented in the resources your school uses? Find diverse stories and imagery in your chosen reading books and phonics materials and you will not only lessen feelings of alienation among typically under-represented groups of pupils – including children who have SEND – but also help all learners to understand the diversity of the world around them.

Look for resources created by authors from diverse backgrounds and your school will be communicating to every pupil that reading and writing are subjects for children like them.

Expand at-home learning

When it comes to any pupil who is struggling (although it will undoubtedly benefit all learners), it is important to look at what could be offered at home to augment learning. Increase access to phonics resources wherever possible, whether that is in the form of e-books, printable worksheets, or at-home access to online learning portals (plus the relevant devices to make this happen). This extra boost may help them close the gaps with their peers and concentrate on areas they find difficult.

Use parent power

Enlisting familial support wherever possible can be the difference between a child feeling incentivised in phonics and a child disengaging. There is still time to arrange a meeting that alleviates any parental concerns as well as to explain the purpose of the phonics screening check. Share with parents what happens next and how it fits with their child’s developing fluency. Families who understand and support this are far more likely to offer help at home.

Find your funding

It is an important time for phonics in other ways too: all state-funded infant, primary, junior, special schools or pupil referral units working with primary-aged children could be eligible to apply for up to £9,000 of extra funding and phonics support through the government’s English Hubs initiative. You will need to check with your local English Hub about eligibility and what funding you could access. Apply now and reap the rewards for this year and beyond.

Further information & resources

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