Phonics Screening Check - Frequently Asked Questions (School Staff)

Quotes are taken from the DfE/STA guidance.

Who is allowed to administer the check with the children?

Up to and including 2016 it had to be a teacher. TAs & HLTAs were not allowed to administer the check. This changed in 2017 and it now has to be a member of staff who is trained in phonics and known to the child. From 2018 the person also has to have experience in delivering phonics sessions to pupils. The member of staff can not be a relative or carer of a child taking the check.


Which children do not have to sit the check?

'Pupils shouldn't take the check if they:

  • haven't shown any understanding of grapheme-phoneme correspondences.
  • have recently moved to the country and are unable to understand letters and sounds in English.
  • use British sign language or other sign-supported communication eg communication board, to spell out individual letters.
  • are mute or selectively mute.'


If a child arrives at a school just before or during the check, do they need to take it?

Yes, unless he/she has no understanding of GPCs.


How long will I need to do the test with a class of 30 children?

As a guide, 1 day or 2 half days should be sufficient.


What happens if a child is absent for both weeks of the check period?

He/she has to be marked as absent when submitting the results.


Do I need to cover any wall displays?

If you believe a display could help children in anyway, it should be removed/covered before the check starts.


What adaptations can we make to the check materials for children with SEN?

Children who use coloured overlays as part of normal classroom practice, can do so during the check.

Braille versions are available, but have to be ordered in advance (usually early May).

Various versions of the check will be available to download from the 'phonics screening check' section of the NC tools website:  from the first day of the check period. These include versions with no pictures/black and white pictures (for those children who would find them distracting). You can make the following changes to these downloadable materials:

  • change the font
  • change the font size
  • have fewer words per page
  • printed onto different coloured paper.


Can the children add sound buttons to the words?

The guidance says: 'If a pupil uses sound buttons to help them decode words as part of normal classroom practice, they may use them during the administration of the check'. They will need to be given a clean copy of the check so they can mark the sound buttons against the graphemes themselves. Staff must not mark the graphemes for the children! Headteachers are able to download versions of the check from the NCA tools website: from the first day of the check period. If you are in any doubt about what constitutes 'normal classroom practice', you are best to check with STA.


What sorts of words will be on the check?

Section 1:

The words in section 1 will have a variety of simple word structures (for example CVC, VCC, CCVC and CVCC) using single letters (a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, I, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, qu, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z), some consonant digraphs (ch, ck, ff, ll, ng, sh, ss, th, zz) and frequent and consistent vowel digraphs (ar, ee, oi, oo,or).

Section 2:

The words in section 2 will have a variety of more complex word structures (for example CCVCC, CCCVC, CCCVCC and two syllable words) with some additional consonant digraphs (ph, wh), some less frequent and consistent vowel digraphs, including split digraphs (a-e, ai, au, aw, ay, ea, e-e, er, ew, i-e, ie, ir, oa, o-e, ou, ow, oy, ue, u-e, ur) and trigraphs (air, igh). Graphemes which represent more than 1 phoneme: a (/a/ & /ar/), c (/c/ & /s/), ch (/ch/ & /c/ & /sh/), e (/e/ & /ee/), ea (/e/ &/ee/), er (/ur/ & schwa), g (/g/ & /j/), i (/i/ & /ie/), ie (/igh/ & /ee/), o (/o/ & /oa/), oo (/oo/ & /ew/), ow (/ou/ & /oa/), ou (x4?), s (/s/ & /z/), u (/u/ & /ue/).

All single letters of the alphabet will be covered during the check.

Non words will not be homophones for real words eg 'beek'.

2 syllable words will all be real words, but not compound.


If a child has difficulties pronouncing certain sounds, can this be taken into account when marking?

Yes. Eg. If a child can't pronounce 'th' and usually says 'f', and reads the word 'think' as 'fink' in the check, that can be marked as correct.


Can the check be done in more than one sitting for children who find it difficult to concentrate?

Yes, but 'children should be isolated from the rest of the cohort during a rest break and the check must be completed on the same day'.


How long can you give a child to read a word?

There is no time limit.


What happens if a child reads a word incorrectly, but then self corrects?

Self correction is allowed, but children must not be prompted to 'have another go'.


If a child sounds out a word, but doesn't blend it (ie. say the word), what happens?

It has to be marked as incorrect.


What happens if a child reads a word correctly and then changes his/her mind and reads something else?

It has to be marked as incorrect.


Can I tell a child if he/she has read a word correctly?



Can a child have a second attempt at the check?



If a child is struggling, can I stop the check before the end?

Yes, at any time.


What should I write on the answer sheet?

You only need to show whether the word was read correctly/incorrectly. However, it can be very useful to write what the child actually said if they make as mistake, so you can see what they might need to practise. Mistakes can also be used for a question level analysis to see if there were common mistakes made by more than one child. This could inform future teaching.


Who can I discuss word specifics with during the check period?

Only your head teacher and other staff directly involved in the administration of the check. You can't share the check words with other staff at the school/other schools, on-line forums, social media (including blogs) and family members.


When do the check materials need to be locked away?

From the moment they arrive in school until just before the check is due to be administered. Once testing has begun, the materials must not be left anywhere unattended, as they could be seen by parents/other staff and this would constitute a breach of security.


When will we know what the pass mark is?

This will be available on the DfE website: on the Monday after the check fortnight has finished.


Which children have to re-take the check in Y2?

Children who:

  • didn't reach the expected standard in Y1 the previous year.
  • were absent when the check took place in Y1.
  • had recently arrived in the country when the check took place in Y1 and could not speak confidently in English.
  • entered the schooling system in Y2


If a child doesn't meet the standard in the check in Y2, does he/she have to resit in Y3?