Decoding phonics for children with SLCN

Next Monday (18th June), all year 1 pupils across England will take the phonics screening check for the first time. Find out more at  the Department of Education website

However, the check has not been without controversy. A coalition of education organisations, amongst others, has highlighted their concerns including issues for children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), EAL and special educational needs.

Evidence highlights that children with SLCN are at high risk of literacy difficulties. There can be huge variations in the ways in which these children can struggle with literacy – from not understanding words or concepts to not being able to blend sounds, discern the differences between similar sounds or link speech sounds to letter names.

The list of potential difficulties is lengthy, as are the potential solutions. We know children with SLCN can benefit from good systematic teaching of phonics, but maybe not at the same time, in the same way or without good solid language teaching first.

Although we can debate the ‘politics’ of the phonics check, it is happening. The Communication Trust has been solutions focused and produced Communicating Phonics to equip teachers with information and knowledge about what the test means for children with SLCN.

For many children with SLCN, it means careful and supportive administration, for others access to the test will be challenging to say the least. For all, careful interpretation is needed in order to inform next steps and identify areas of difficulty or strength.

Communicating Phonics also has wider guidance to support the literacy development of children with SLCN. We aimed to provide teachers with some clear indicators; How might a child with a particular speech or language difficulty respond to the phonics check? What does this tell you about the nature of their difficulties? How can you best support them to access the check or to access literacy more widely?

Communicating Phonics is available at There are also factsheets for different audiences including year 1 teachers, reception teachers, parents of children with SLCN, those interested in literacy development, and those who just want the key principles.