As English Hubs, we are clear that helping schools provide excellent teaching in phonics and early language, and promoting a love of reading, create tangible and long-lasting benefits for children.
Reading is the key gateway to enabling children to fully access and benefit from other curriculum subjects, and ultimately to maximise their potential in life.
The unprecedented events of the Covid-19 pandemic have disrupted education for all children, in all subjects. We are keen to help you prioritise phonics and reading as a key part of your recovery plan to get children back up to expected standards as quickly and efficiently as possible.
As Hubs we want to send you the message that we are here to support you.
Following recent government announcements.
- £650 million to be shared across state primary and secondary schools over the 2020/21 academic year to support all pupils.
- Publication of the guidance for the full opening of schools from September, which includes curriculum advice as follows:
“For pupils in Reception Year, teachers should also assess and address gaps in language, early reading and mathematics, particularly ensuring children’s acquisition of phonics knowledge and extending their vocabulary.” …
“For pupils in key stages 1 and 2, school leaders are expected to prioritise identifying gaps and re-establish good progress in the essentials (phonics and reading, increasing vocabulary, writing and mathematics), identifying opportunities across the curriculum so they read widely, and developing their knowledge and vocabulary.”
We have put together some practical guidance for you to consider, which we hope will be helpful when planning for September. We have selected key areas that you may find it helpful to focus on, and have collated some helpful resources and guidance around to support you:
- Ensure that you are getting the most out of your systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) programme.
- When did your staff last receive training? All staff involved in delivering your chosen programme should be able to teach it confidently.
- Assessment – Is letter-sound knowledge and word reading assessed regularly (every term /half term)?
- Check if you have the necessary systems in place to provide daily tutoring (one to one or small groups) for those children who fall behind;
- Are you continuing to use your programme until all children can read fluently. Because of the pandemic and missed schooling this could mean continuing to use the programme with children into Y3 and beyond; and
- Check if you have the necessary resources and matched decodable storybooks to get the best from your chosen programme.
- Fully decodable books are key to building children’s confidence whilst learning to read. Due to their time away from the classroom, confidence for some children will understandably be low, and therefore it is so important that we do all we can to boost that confidence when children are back in school.
- Because all phonics schemes use different sequences to introduce the various graphemes and phonemes it is important that you do not mix and match lessons, concepts or resources (including decodable books) from more than one programme as this would disrupt the sequence in which children are learning to read. (for further guidance on selecting decodable books and mixing and matching resources please see Annex A; Decodable readers and Annex B; Mix and Match Q&A documents.
- Once children are secure in their phonic decoding and can read, it is then critical that they are exposed to and have access to a wide variety of books to develop a love of reading. For some children, school may be one of their only sources of quality books and it is so important that we facilitate children being able to borrow these. You may, understandably, feel nervous about sending books home with children due to the potential infection risk. We have compiled some guidance on how we can continue to share books as safely as possible at this time. Please refer to Annex C; Handling books safely
£650 million additional funding
We appreciate that with many competing priorities, deciding how best to invest the one-off grant to deliver maximum impact for children in your school, may be difficult. We would recommend that investing some or all of this money in phonics/literacy catch-up, would be a wise investment, resulting in impact across the curriculum. We have put together some suggestions of how you could use this money most effectively;
- Your staff know your children best and in the pre-Covid world were more than likely responsible for delivering phonics interventions when required. Therefore invest in additional staff time to deliver quality phonics and literacy interventions. Whether you choose to create additional capacity within your timetable or support additional evening, weekend or summer catch-up initiatives this will enable you to offer targeted catch-up, either individually or in small groups, to children who have been assessed as having fallen behind during school closure.
- Invest in additional training for your staff e.g. you may have teaching and/or support staff working in Y2 and beyond who will now be dealing with a larger number of children who are not yet secure in their phonic decoding. If these staff have not had recent training or experience in your chosen systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) programme you could invest in training to ensure that they have the required skills to support their classes.
- If you do not feel that your current SSP programme is meeting your schools needs you may want to look at changing programmes and you could use the additional funding to purchase training and/or resources to support your chosen programme.
The above is not an exhaustive list and every school is unique but we hope this gives you ideas of how you could use this funding to good effect to boost phonics in your school.
Further support and what next
We hope you will find our tips and guidance documents useful in helping you to think through any changes you may need to put in place or prioritise ready for the autumn term.
We are currently working on audit tools, similar to those used in our programme, to help schools to self evaluate their phonics practice and also reading for pleasure. These audits will help you to pinpoint areas for development to improve performance and get the best results for your children, we hope to have these ready to send to you early in the autumn term.
We look forward to getting back in touch in September to let you know what further support the hub network will be able to offer you once we are all back in the classroom. In the meantime, please get in touch with your local hub in the first instance if you have any questions. Details of your nearest hub can be found on this website; http://www.englishhubs.org/ Your local hub will either be able to provide support directly, or sign-post you to other support across the network.
Other sources of help and support you may wish to access over the summer could include:
- Your SSP programme provider. Most suppliers have created additional resources to support Covid-19 recovery. Contact your provider to discuss what additional, programme specific, support they may be able to offer you.
- DfE online resources list for English which can be found here; https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-online-education-resources/english-resources
 SSP programmes currently validated by the English Hubs programme are Bug Club Phonics, Floppy’s Phonics, Jolly Phonics, Letters and Sounds, Phonics International, Read Write Inc., Sounds Discovery, Sounds-Write