What is ‘Phonics’?

Phonics is a method for teaching reading and writing to children in primary schools. Children link sounds (phonemes) and their written form (graphemes) in order to recognise and read words, using basic units of knowledge to “decode” new or unfamiliar words.  The Department for Education’s guidance for parents states that “Research shows that when phonics is taught in a structured way – starting with the easiest sounds and progressing through to the most complex – it is the most effective way of teaching young children to read. It is particularly helpful for children aged 5 to 7.”

How is Phonics taught?

Words are made up of just 44 sounds in English. You may have heard your child or their teacher use particular words that form the core of understanding phonics. Here’s a quick explanation of some of the key concepts.

  • Phoneme – the smallest unit of sound as it is spoken.
  • Grapheme –  a written symbol that represents a sound (phoneme) that’s either one letter or a sequence of letters
  • Digraph – two letters that work together to make the same sound (ch, sh, ph)
  • Trigraph – three letters that work together to make the same sound (igh, ore, ear)
  • Split digraph (sometimes called ‘magic e’) – two letters that work together to make the same sound, separated by another letter in the same word. This enables children to understand the difference in vowel sounds between, for example, grip/gripe, rag/rage, tap/tape.

Rather than memorising words individually, children are taught a code which helps them to work out how to read an estimated 95% of the English language.

What is the Phonics Screening Check?

The Phonics Screening Check is a compulsory assessment taken by all children in Year 1 attending state school in England.  The test, which lasts 5-10 minutes and is taken individually as a child sits with their teacher, requires pupils to read aloud forty words. To pass, they must correctly read aloud 32/40 of the words. Some of the words in the test are harder than others, and some of the words aren’t actual words with any meaning, but made-up words that see if children can apply their ability to decode sounds to correctly read it, to ensure that they can apply the same principles to learning new words as their vocabulary grows. The ‘fake’ words are depicted in the test next to a picture of a monster, so that the teacher can ask the child to say what sort of monster it is, so that they do not learn them as actual words.

The Phonics scheme used in Reception and Key Stage 1 (Years 1 and 2) at Long Furlong, and in other classes throughout the school where needed, is Twinkl Phonics, a DfE-approved systematic synthetic phonics programme.  This is supported by a wide range of books carefully selected by school staff to make the children’s learning experience as effective and enjoyable as possible, instilling a love of reading and writing.