Pupils take the phonics screening check at the end of year 1, typically aged 6. Pupils who do not meet the
expected standard take the check again at the end of year 2, typically aged 7. Pupils 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 Pupil well.
Whilst Pupils 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, Pupils 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 Pupils are using their decoding skills and not just relying on their memory of words they’ve read before. Because some Pupils 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.)