Possible boycott of National Check

The NUT have expressed their concerns about the upcoming screening and it is possible that they may advise their members to boycott the assessments.


Christine Blower states that schools have difficulties with the pseudo words which will be included in the test and that the test may be detrimental to childrens’ learning. 32% of the pupils in the pilot failed the phonics test pilot and the schools involved told the NUT that the assessments did not inform them of any learning difficulties that they did not know about.


Only 32% of children passed the phonics test

Ouch – that is a scary statistic – but true ! It seems that only 32% of pupils passed the National Phonics Check during the pilot phase. The full version is to be rolled out in 2012 and if you consider that the results of the test will be used for benchmarking at local, national and Ofsted level ( http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/y/year%201%20phonics%20screening%20check%20framework.pdf ) then you can imagine the emphasis that primary school headteachers are putting on preparing the children.


Reading check explained

The new reading assessment  for 6 year olds is clearly explained and discussed in this excellent video from Ruth Miskin.

phonics test

This is a very reassuring video and highlights that there is nothing to fear from the test for parents or teachers. But is this really the case ? The DFES has confirmed that data from the phonics check results will be provided to Ofsted to help them make judgements about the quality of provision in schools.

National Check tips

The DFES have published a document of 3 main points they think schools should be covering to ensure good progression with phonics  - one of which is regular testing and assessment of ability :

2. Regular assessment of phonics learning St Thomas More Roman Catholic Primary School, Rochdale It’s crucial that all schools realise that this is just a check, not a test, in order to identify where the children are in their learning and what needs to be done. We assess our pupils’ understanding every six weeks, taking into account our phonics programme and teacher assessment. If children’s abilities are regularly assessed and tracked, assessment outcomes become more predictable, because we can intervene straight away and support the child to next level of learning, keeping them on a good trajectory. As a result, the screening check confirmed our own regular assessment outcomes.




Details released

The Department for Education has just published details of the framework to be used in the screening test, soon to be implemented for all Year 1 pupils.


A pdf with full details is available here:


There are some interesting details in this phonetic framework. It seems that the data produced from these assessments will be made available to Ofsted and will be used to benchmark pupils. There are no current plans to publish the screening test data in League Tables but as shown in Wales this data can be obtained by a Freedom of Information request.



Assessment warning

The planned reading test for all 6 year olds in England has been slammed as a waste of money by a group of leading literacy and phonics experts :


The Department for Education are keen to implement the new phonics test in 2012. This phonics check is designed to screen the phonics ability of children and then use the data to target resources at developing their skills.

Test design

A phonics test should give a clear check of a child’s ability to use phonemes to assist them with reading. When designing a test to assess this understanding  there are a number of factors that need to be considered :

  • Will it assess all consonants and vowels along with blending of phonemes ?
  • Will non-words be included in the assessment ?
  • Will words that do not follow standard phonetic rules (such as knee, know etc) be included ?
  • How long will the test take ?
  • Will different regional accents influence the delivery of the assessment?
  • Will the test be accessible for all children, regardless of their ability ?

Testing phonics

Most schools now teach children to read using the reading method called phonics and often use a phoneme test to check ability. This is the process of breaking words down to their basic sounds so the child can easily work out what each word is. They will then put the sounds back together and form the words. They start off with simple sounds and short words and then move on to learn every sound there is and how to read them in all words. This means that they are able to approach new words with confidence having learnt the rules on how to work them out. By the time they move up from infants they should be confident readers and pass most phonics tests.

Due to all children learning using this method there are lots of web sites on the internet that will give you help and advice on how to help your child if they are at a particular level in phonics. There are lots of exercises and quizzes online you can do, and you can learn interesting ways to help your children learn the different phonic sounds and also learn the tricky words for each level that don’t follow the rules that the children are taught at school.

As a parent it is great if your school uses this method or a one as there is a set order in how this is taught and therefore it is easy to support at home. However, if you are going to support your child you need to know what stage your child is at. The only way you can do this (apart from seeing the teacher every week) is by giving your child some help to find out what level they are at. Once you have done this you will be able to help your child as you will know what level to pitch your help.


Phonics is a method of teaching children to read. Most schools these days teach using this method as it has been proved to be the most effective method in getting children to learn to read at a young age and become confident readers by the time they finish primary school.

The method of teaching involves breaking words down into their basic sounds. So a simple word like ‘cat’ is broken down into 3 sounds – ‘c’, ‘a’ and ‘t’. Once the child has learnt those three sounds they will be able to put them together to read the word. The method  teaches each child the sounds in the same order, which makes it easy to help at home, and also makes it easier for the child if they move to a different school, as they can easily pick up their reading from where they were at the old school.

Teaching is split into 5 levels, each level slowly builds up to more and more complicated sounds. Starting with the single letters and then moving onto groups of letters that make one sounds such as ‘igh’ making the ‘i’ sound. There are also ‘tricky’ words at each level, which just need to be learnt as they don’t follow the rules. Unfortunately because the English language is made up from lots of words from a range of different languages there are a lot of different ways words are made up and some just don’t fit the rules. Some of these are the basic words that children need to read even the simplest books such as ‘I’, ‘the’, ‘go’ and ‘come’.

Phonetic teaching is a great start to reading as it gives children the confidence to attempt new words even when they are a very early stage of reading. However, eventually in order to be a fast reader they will need to memorise words, which the ‘tricky words’ are good practice for.

National check planned

Children ages 5 & 6 in England will take a reading test based on phonics this year (2011)

phonics test

The tests assess how well the pupils’ knowledge of the sound of letters and groups of letters (phonemes).

Schools who took part in the phonetics test trials found them useful in identifying which pupils might need additional learning support in terms of reading. Over 300 participated in  test trials and in each of these schools the pupils were removed from the classroom on a one to one basis to take part in the test.

The test consists of a booklet of simple words and made up words and is carried out with the teacher and is seen as a quick check of children’s phonic ability rather than a true reading test.

Some of the words are non-words and check whether children can use their knowledge of phonics to  work out words.

It is now Government policy that all primary schools teach children to read quickly using a a phonetically based system.