Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the questions I am frequently asked during my work in schools and settings.  If you have any more, please contact me and I'll try to help!

  • What is synthetic phonics?

In synthetic phonics words are broken up into the smallest untis of sounds (phonemes).  Children are taught to synthesise (blend) phonemes into words for reading and segment words into phonemes for spelling.

  • Can I use any phonics programme I want?

Yes.  There is no statutory programme to be followed.  However, 'fidelity' to a programme is recommended and the progression of teaching outlined in your chosen programme should be followed systematically to ensure best progress.   The programmes included in the match-funding catalogue The Importance of Phonics meet the DfE core criteria for the teaching of high quality, systematic synthetic phonics

  • What are the age-related expectations for progression through the phases of Letters and Sounds?

The recommendation is that the majority of children should be secure at Phase 3 by the end of Reception, secure at Phase 5 by the end of Y1 and working well within Phase 6 by the end of Y2.

  • What is meant by 'secure at'?

Children are judged to be 'secure at' a particular phase once they know most of the phonemes associated with that phase most of the time, and can apply the skills of blending and segmenting using an appropriate range of grapheme-phoneme correspondences.  See 'Phonics: Assessment and Tracking Guidance' for further details.

  • How do I assess phonics?

The majority of evidence of ability in phonics can be gathered through observational assessment during the discrete phonics session and in Shared, Guided and Independent reading and writing activities.  Each part of the discrete phonics session should provide good opportunities for practitioners to see what children can do and the 'apply' part is particularly useful in giving evidence of how children are using their phonic skills in reading and writing.  Guided Reading can be used to reinforce what has been learned in the discrete phonics session and it provides  a particularly useful opportunity for practitioners to observe children's application of their phonic skills in reading.  Children's skills in segmenting for spelling are best assessed through Guided and Independent writing opportunities.  Where you have not been able to gather sufficient information from observations to provide a clear picture of children's achievements, or if you have concerns about a particular child, you may wish to undertake a more focused adult-led assessment.

  • How do I teach phonics in a mixed-age class?

As with any group of children, it is 'stage' not 'age' that matters.  You will want to tailor your teaching to fill in any gaps in phonic knowledge that you have identified.  A high quality phonics programme will typically provide guidance on assessment, which should help you here.

  • What about children in KS2 who have not reached age-related expectations?

There will be some children in KS2 who may not heve reached age-related expectations in phonics and have gaps in their knowledge.  It is crucial that their ability is assessed and gaps identified to allow focussed teaching targeted at the right level.  If you are using the 'Letters and Sounds' programme, any children in KS2 who are assessed as working within Phases 1 -5, should continue to be taught a daily, discrete phonics session following the programme.