In this article, we’ll be looking at Ofsted’s inspectors’ comments regarding Phonics, from the 50 judgements released in October 2018 where the schools were judged “Requires Improvement”.

Phonics Standard

In some reports, Ofsted identify that a school’s Phonics results are above the National Average

The proportion of pupils who achieve the standard in the phonics screening check had been steadily rising over previous years, meaning that it has been above national figures.

The percentage of pupils meeting the required standard for the phonics screening check has been well above the national average for the last three years.

Pupils’ attainment in the phonics screening check is consistently above the national average. All groups of pupils are fluent early readers and are well prepared for their next stage of learning.

It is notable that the phrase “well above” is used in the Phonics section of the IDSR which represents attainment of 90% or more.

In other reports, Phonics results are either variable or are below the National Average

The proportion of pupils achieving the expected standard in the Year 1 phonics screening check has been erratic, rising and falling each year.

Outcomes in the phonics screening check at the end of Year 1 have been well below the national average for the expected standard for the last three years…

However, there may be reasons as to why there is a temporary dip in the pass rate:

Although 14 new pupils joined the Year 1 cohort in 2017, which leaders said affected the outcomes in the phonics screening check in 2018…

In 2018, there was a slight dip in the school’s results. Leaders’ analysis shows that this was largely due to some changes to the Year 1 cohort.

In addition to looking at pupils who pass Year 1, they also look at provision for those who don’t pass.

Provision is in place to ensure that the teaching of phonics is more carefully targeted to the needs of pupils to support them to achieve this standard by the end of Year 2.

Pupils who did not meet the required standard in the Year 1 phonics screening check are now supported to catch up more quickly.

How is Phonics taught?

Ofsted comment on how good results have been achieved:

This is because phonics is taught more systematically and staff have been trained appropriately to deliver the school’s phonics programme.

This reflects the strong and consistent approach to the teaching of phonics.

Leaders have introduced a commercial phonics programme. This is having a positive impact in the early years provision and is used more extensively in Year 1.

Leaders acted promptly to address the dip in outcomes in the 2017 Year 1 phonics screening check…

…reflecting some improvements in the teaching of early reading…

These outcomes reflect leaders’ ambitious drive for improvement and the successful strategies for support and training staff.

Pupils are relishing greater success in their reading. Opportunities for them to build on their comprehension skills allow pupils to read with enjoyment. Leaders’ effective work to secure improvements in phonics…

Staff teach phonics progressively and carefully build on the sounds pupils have learned in previous lessons. Pupils read regularly and with fluency and they use their phonics knowledge in their writing. Staff provide those pupils working below the expected standard with carefully planned lessons to help them make good progress.

But they also comment on what might be the root of poor results:

Although teachers provide pupils with reading books, they do not check whether pupils have the necessary phonics knowledge to read these books accurately and confidently. Pupils sometimes become demotivated and have to guess what the words say, rather than decoding them accurately. This reduces pupils’ progress in reading over time.

Current pupils’ progress is too variable because teaching does not consistently meet their needs well enough.

Phonics Outside of Year 1

Ofsted look at the teaching of Phonics outside of Year 1 as well:

Pupils who took the phonics check again in Year 2 all made gains on their previous outcomes. However, there are a small number of pupils currently in Year 3 who have not reached the standard.

Pupils at key stage 1 have lots of opportunities to use their phonics knowledge and develop their comprehension skills. This demonstrates the effectiveness of leaders’ work to improve the teaching of phonics across the school.

…the teaching of phonics is not good enough in all year groups. 

Comparisons are also made between EYFSP, Phonics Year 1, and Reading Year 2:

Phonics teaching and learning are consistently effective at key stage 1 and in the Reception Year.

Historically, the gains made in reading in Reception and in the end of Year 1 phonics screening check have not been in evidence in the end of key stage 1 reading outcomes.

This is despite the fact that, at the end of Reception the previous year, the same cohort’s attainment was far closer to the national average in 2017 than it was for the proportion passing the phonics screening check in 2018.

As a result, the swift progress made in Reception Year is not consistently sustained in Year 1.

Outcomes in the early years, Year 1 phonics and key stage 1 are at least in line the national figures and are sometimes above that.