For students to develop strong literacy skills in the junior primary years, they need accurate and fluent vocabulary, comprehension and oral language skills. The most effective way to teach these skills to students is through the explicit teaching method called “systematic synthetic phonics”.
The short, 7-minute UK Phonics check, is a helpful screen test that provides teachers with information about students’ phonic decoding ability and assists them in identifying early gaps in students’ decoding and phonic ability. Other benefits include assessing reading progress and planning early interventions for those children who may be struggling. It is usually performed in Term 3 of Year 1, following 18 months of literacy instruction.
At the moment, the UK Phonics Check has been implemented in NSW and South Australia.
In this blog, we explore the data around the UK Phonics Check, and discuss why we believe every state in Australia should be implementing it as part of the screening and tracking programs.
Early Identification and Support Improves Literacy Skills
Across the education system in Australia, there is an awareness that early identification of students who are experiencing difficulties is vital. Students who struggle in the early years struggle to catch-up and therefore difficulties in the acquisition of literacy skills need to be identified and supported much earlier.
Assessments such as the UK Phonics Check assist in identifying students who require help and also assist with the appropriate allocation of funding and resources where gaps are identified. For this reason PLD supports the introduction of the UK Phonics Check within Australia as a tool for early detection of phonic knowledge (sound-letter knowledge), and as part of a structured synthetic phonics approach to teaching literacy.
As Dr Lorraine Hammond, LDA president, reminds us, “if you don’t properly measure something, you can’t properly manage it.”
What Does the UK Phonic Check Look Like?
The UK Phonics Check is a 7-minute test that involves presenting 40 words for students to read. These words are a mix of real and nonsense (or pseudo-words) which assess a student’s ability to sound out and blend phonemes to read words.
Here is a video of the assessment being demonstrated.
Screenshots from the UK Phonics Check
Below is a screenshot of real words in the UK Phonics Check
Below is a screenshot of nonsense words in the UK Phonics Check
The UK Phonics Check Being Adopted in Australia
In 2021, NSW committed to the introduction of the Year 1 Phonics Check in schools as a result of it being trialled in 520 NSW schools. A survey found that 98% of participating teachers said the assessment provided beneficial information about students’ early reading skills and identifying gaps in their literacy development.
However, the first Australian state to adopt the UK Phonics Check was SA in 2018, after a trial in 2017 produced similar results for students and positive responses from teachers. Since the trial, results have improved each year of the state-wide implementation in South Australia, from 43% achieving the threshold score in 2018, to 52% in 2019, and 63% in 2020.
Additionally, the Australian Government has committed to investing $10.8 million for the development of a free, online phonics health check for Year 1 students and a digital Literacy Hub. The Hub is a free online portal for teachers, school leaders and families and includes information on how students learn to read, and tailored resources for schools, teachers and families to support literacy development.