The proportion of children who met the expected standard in the phonics check at the end of Year 1 in 2019 was 82 per cent.
The provisional statistics, released today by the Department for Education show the pass rate was down 0.6 percentage points compared to 2018 (using unrounded data).
The phonics screening test is a statutory nationwide assessment of five- and six-year-olds' ability to read words.
The test itself is made up of 40 words, one half of which are genuine and the other half are pseudo-words, such as “spraw” or “meck” – these words are denoted by pictures of monsters.
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Pupils read the words to their teachers, who mark the test and return the results to their local authority, which submits them to the Department for Education.
Parents are told their child’s scores at the end of the summer term, but the national picture is not revealed until the autumn.
School standards minister Nick Gibb said: "If children are to achieve their full potential it’s vital that they are given firm foundations to build on – and that’s what these statistics show is happening.
“Mastering phonics, which provides a solid foundation for reading, along with basic numeracy and literacy, means these pupils will be able go on to apply these skills in more and more advanced ways.
“It’s because of the hard work of teachers and our keen focus on raising standards at the earliest stages of education that we’ve been able to see these results.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, said: "Great teaching supports children’s learning, progress and development. National testing, on its own, does not.
"The phonics screening check is a poor use of staff time and should not be compulsory for children.
"No one would argue that children should not have a good grasp of phonics and or know their times tables; but statutory testing is not the best way to assess this. Rather than focus on high stakes tests, we must trust professionals to use continual, low-level assessments to reinforce learning."
How have the results changed?
In 2012, the first year of the test, 58 per cent of pupils reached the expected standard at the end of Year 1.
What is the expected standard?
The government announced in June that the pass mark for the phonics screening check will remain at 32 out of 40 for the eighth consecutive year.
Pupils who fail to meet the pass mark in Year 1 or who have not taken the test are retested at the end of Year 2.
In 2018, 92 per cent of pupils had met the expected standard by the end of Year 2.
What do the results mean for schools?
Although the school’s overall phonics check score is not published, it is available on the school-performance portal Analyse School Performance. This allows schools to benchmark their performance and the results can be used by Ofsted when considering a school’s performance.
How interested is Ofsted in the tests?
The schools inspection handbook for Ofsted's new inspection framework, which came into force on 1 September 2019, explicitly states that inspectors will focus on how well pupils are taught to read and assess how well the school is teaching phonics. It adds: “[Inspectors] should also draw on information from the school’s policy for teaching reading, phonics assessments, phonics screening check results and lesson visits.”