Fostering a love of reading across school

By Dr. Beth Clarke, headteacher, Hill West Primary School

2016 saw a new phonics screening check record at Hill West Primary School with every child passing the check – a 100% success rate.  When children are learning to read there are two crucial things for them to learn:

  • the sounds represented by written letters
  • how to blend the sounds together to make words.

Synthetic Phonics is a way of teaching reading whereby children are taught to read letters or groups of letters by saying the sound(s) they represent – so, they are taught that the letter or group of letters make a particular sound when read together. Children can then start to read words by blending (synthesising) the sounds together to make a word.  At Hill West you will often hear teachers talking about blending , but you might also hear them refer to sounding out; these terms focus on the same point – synthesising sounds.

Since 2012, all Year 1 pupils have been required to undertake a phonics screening check where they need to read forty words, twenty of which are real and twenty that are ‘nonsense’ or ‘alien’ words.  The ‘nonsence’ words are words that are phonically decodable but are not actual words with an associated meaning e.g. brip, snorb. Pseudo words are included in the check specifically to assess whether a child can decode a word using phonics skills and not their memory.  The pseudo words in the check are shown to the children with a picture of a monster and they are asked to tell their teacher what sort of monster it is by reading the word. This not only makes the check a bit more fun, but provides the children with a context for the nonsense word which is independent from any existing vocabulary they may have. Crucially, it does not provide any clues, so children just have to be able to decode it. Children at Hill West tend to find this part of the test particularly amusing!  In addition to the nonsense words the check determines if children can sound out and blend graphemes in order to read simple words and whether they can read phonically decodable one-syllable and two-syllable words, e.g. cat, sand, windmill.

The phonics screening check is designed to give teachers and parents information on how individual children are progressing in phonics.  It is designed to confirm whether pupils have learnt phonic decoding to an appropriate standard and will identify pupils who need extra help to improve these skills. It requires the children to apply their phonic knowledge through all of the different phases that they have been learning since Reception.

The threshold for passing is unknown until after the check has been administered.  This year was 32 out of 40.  In the past, pupils at Hill West have achieved highly in the phonics screening check, but 2016 saw a new record with all sixty children in Year 1 passing with flying colours, setting a 100% pass rate!  Not only did every child pass, there was also a new record set for the percentage of children who achieved full marks, 40 out of 40. This was yet another fantastic achievement!

Along with the school Governors, I am keen to acknowledge the hard work of the staff and the students and said that this result was a testament to the drive to instill a love of reading across the school.