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St John XXIII Catholic Primary School Inspiring Faith in our Future

Phonics Screening

What is the Phonics Screening?



Due to the educational impact of school closures/lockdowns during the academic years between  2020-2021, the Screening Test  for Year 1 pupils due to take part in June 2021 was postponed and will take part when those pupils are in Year 2, at the end of the Autumn Term 2021. Pupils who do not pass the screening will have the opportunity to redo the the screening again in June 2022 and will have been identified by their teacher to have specialist and 1:1 tutoring to support them. 


The Phonics Screening Check is a test for children in Year 1. Children take it during June in a one-to-one setting with a teacher. This is usually their class teacher, but it could also be the headteacher or another teacher who knows the child well.

Whilst children learn phonics to help them with both word reading and spelling, the Phonics Screening Check only tests their skills at word reading. This is sometimes called decoding.

During the Phonics Screening Check, children are asked to read (decode) 40 words. Most of these words are real words but some are pseudo-words. Pseudo-words are included to ensure that children are using their decoding skills and not just relying on their memory of words they’ve read before. Because some children may misread these pseudo-words based on their similarity to words in their existing vocabulary, each pseudo-word is clearly identified with an image of an alien. Most teachers and children, therefore, refer to pseudo-words as alien words.

The test itself is divided into two sections. Section 1 is the easier part. In this section, children are asked to recognise simple word structures and Grapheme Phoneme Correspondences (GPCs) from the earlier phases of the phonics curriculum. In 2019, real words included in Section 1 were words like ‘shop’, ‘peel’ and ‘yell’.

Section 2 is the trickier part of the test. Here, children need to recognise GPCs from the later stages of the phonics curriculum. They also encounter graphemes that correspond to more than one phoneme (e.g. the grapheme ‘ea’ represents different phonemes in the words bread and bead.)

There is no time limit for the Phonics Screening Check, but it usually takes less than 10 minutes. Many schools use practice tests so children are accustomed to working one-to-one and reading unfamiliar words. Equally, many schools do not, as the daily phonics lessons in Year 1 already include reading both words and pseudo-words. Whichever approach is taken, most children reach the expected standard. If a child doesn’t meet the expected standard, their school will work with them to ensure they receive the phonics teaching and support they need. The child will then retake the Phonics Screening Check the following year.


If they do not manage to read 32 of the words, they are given extra support, and repeat the check at the end of Year 2.

It means that all children will be able to read accurately before they begin Year 3.


In our school, we aim to make sure that every child learns to read accurately by the end of Year 1 so they are set up for success in school and in life.

As soon as we spot a child who needs extra practice learning to read sounds and words, we teach them one-to-one for a few minutes every day.