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Why the fuss about the Year 1 literacy and numeracy screen?

By Jo Rogers - posted Friday, 1 December 2017

I've been teaching children to read and write for fifty years next year, using the systematic teaching of (synthetic) phonics using the 44 sounds in English to be represented by the 26 letters of the alphabet. I know how well it works for all children.

There are many myths and misunderstandings about phonics and I think some of the anti-phonics educators just don't understand the process. They say, "It doesn't work because not all words can be sounded out' or 'Direct teaching of phonics will stifle creativity' and 'The children will have to read books with text like "The fat cat sat on the mat." These comments are false.

All words are sounded out by definition of oral language. When we speak, we are 'sounding out' words using the 44 sounds in our language. If (synthetic) phonics is effectively and consistently taught, especially in the first three years of school, children are able to write many more words to express their thoughts and they read all the same books they have access to now.


One complaint about the Year 1 Screen Test is about asking children to decode nonsense words like hib, mep or snop to find out if they are guessing words or using phonic knowledge they are supposed to learn to decode text. There is nothing wrong with this task. Decoding is the gateway skill to the other reading skills. When we read, without decoding a word correctly, we cannot access correct meaning or learn to spell that word.

Let me explain further. The dictionary states that 'Phonics is the representing of each speech sound (44) by a particular letter or letters which is always used for that sound'.

Some say this is the Alphabet Principle, which is limiting. E.g. A is for apple, B is for ball, C is for cat but what about 'circus'? F is for fish but what about photo? S + H is for ship but what about chef and sugar? It is the 44 sounds that come first. Children come to school with oral language so that is where to start. Phonemic awareness is the skill of listening to and differentiating between these 44 sounds.

Analytic phonics is about reading text to children, then mentioning phonic examples in the text. This is an activity for competent readers not beginning readers.

Synthetic phonics is starting at the beginning and building knowledge step by step, as with the way we learn many other skills.

So teaching one sound at a time, say words with the sound 'c', it is made by the letter C in car, the letter K in kite, the letters C + K in pack, and the letters C + H in school.


If we learn words that have the sound 'f', the letter F makes the 'f' sound in fish, the letters F+F make the 'f' sound in cliff and the letters P +H make the 'f' sound in photo and phonics.

If we learn words with the 'sh' sound, the letters S+H makes the 'sh' sound in ship, the letters C +H make the 'sh' sound in chef and the letter's' makes the 'sh' sound in sugar. And so on.

It is a plan that all makes sense to children, and to adults once they understand the strategy. And with this approach, there are no 'irregular' words. The word 'laugh' is made by three sounds, l – ar - f, and the 'l' sound is made by the letter L, the 'ar' sound is made by the letters A+U and the 'f' sound is made by the letters G + H. And so it goes on for all words.

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To support the test, sign the petition by clicking here. You can also join the campaign by following the Say YES to the Phonics Screening Check Facebook page.

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About the Author

Jo Rogers is an experienced primary and special education teacher who has been teaching synthetic phonics since 1968.

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