Pupils entering the Early Years Foundation Stage are taught via our bespoke, systematic phonics programme that is based on the DfE ‘Letters and Sounds’ strategy. The Phonics Subject Lead, alongside our team of highly-trained staff, plan and deliver progressive phonics lessons in line with the needs of pupils. These are taught daily, throughout the Early Years and Year One, with the aim of introducing pupils to the English alphabetic code that represents the sounds (phonemes) in words to the single letters and groups of letters (graphemes) that denote them. The complexity of the English alphabetic code means that children need to be explicitly taught how the spoken and written forms of the sounds correspond. Once this knowledge is gained, alternate representations of the sounds are gradually introduced (e.g. o – old, oa – boat, ow – crow, oe – toe, o-e -code etc.).
Pupils are taught to blend the sounds together to read whole words, as well as segment (separate) the sounds to support their spelling and subsequent writing of words (e.g. the sounds sh-ee-p when blended are read as ‘sheep’). In this way, word reading and spelling are both the result of high-quality phonics teaching.
In addition, high frequency words are also introduced. These are the words which occur most frequently in written material, for example, ‘and’, ‘the’, ‘as’ and ‘it’. Some of the high frequency words can be sounded out using basic phonic rules; for example, ‘it’ is a decodable. However, many of the high frequency words are not phonetically regular and are therefore trickier to read in the early stages because they require sight recognition. At Abbey Primary School, these are called ‘star’ words.
Pupils are provided with reading books to take home predominantly from the Oxford Reading Tree – Songbirds Phonics Scheme. These are carefully matched to pupils’ current phonics stage to reinforce the phonic sounds and high-frequency (star) words that have already been taught in school, therefore providing opportunities to practise and consolidate the knowledge gained so far. The aim of the phonics programme is to ensure that all children rapidly become fluent, confident readers who, from an early age, are able to access text across the curriculum, in all areas of their learning.
Although great emphasis is placed on reading with fluency in the Early Years and Key Stage One, this is complemented by the development of pupils’ comprehension skills. Comprehension develops alongside fluency, as a result of pupils’ access to a language-rich environment in school. Adults explicitly model good practice when interacting with children, and when supporting their conversations with peers. Throughout all aspects of learning, adults take the opportunity to introduce, repeat and consolidate vocabulary in a range of contexts. The stories and rhymes that underpin the curriculum, and the discussion of these, are also a powerful medium through which the crucial language needed for comprehension is acquired.
Continuous assessment, both formative and summative, enables pupils who are not making the required progress in reading to be identified early. This is communicated to parents to identify any potential external, contributing factors such as auditory or visual impairment. Timely intervention, in the form of individual or small-group teaching provides extra opportunities for practice and aims to close any emerging gaps as soon as possible.