Key Stage 1
The approaches adopted in the EYFS were typically continued into Key Stage 1 in the 11 primary schools. A similar picture of strengths and weaknesses as seen in the early years in the teaching of phonics was evident in Key Stage 1. Eight schools divided pupils into groups based on ability, with additional, separate provision for those who were falling behind.
Three schools taught phonics to the whole class at once. In one of these schools, the teaching of phonics was good because the system used by the school was followed faithfully across Key Stage 1 and adults’ subject knowledge was good. In the other two examples, the teaching of whole-class phonics was less effective. In all schools, pupils were taught phonics by teachers and teaching assistants.
Interventions to support those pupils who were struggling to learn to read typically began before Year 1. Usually, interventions consisted of phonics teaching in smaller groups, led by a teaching assistant. One school had reviewed its practice of teaching phonics and reading and decided to provide immediate support for struggling readers from the point of entry to Reception rather than putting all of its efforts into remedial support following checks and tests in Years 1 and 2. The school reported that this was proving to be effective. Two schools provided additional speech and language therapy to supplement the teaching of reading.
Becoming a reader and reading frequently
Even at such an early stage of learning to read, not every pupil was heard to read, either at home or school, every day.
All schools expected pupils to take home at least one book often, but not always decodable from the reading scheme to read with family members. Most allowed the pupil to choose another book to supplement the scheme book. Reading diaries were usually completed at home and checked in school. However, there was wide variability in the frequency of checking on pupils’ reading at home.
Four schools reported that pupils in Key Stage 1 did not read in school every day. One school relied on the weekly guided reading system alongside pupils taking home books to read with parents. In a second school, the policy was that pupils in the EYFS and Key Stage 1 would read with a member of staff once a week or, where a child was making insufficient progress, twice a week. However, the inspector noted that this school had to organise a large number of interventions to support children who were falling behind in Key Stage 1. The third school had no specific policy for hearing pupils read: it was left to individual teachers to decide whether pupils were heard or not. In the fourth school, leaders explained that only targeted children were heard to read every day. However, the reading records showed that some pupils in that sample had not been heard to read for two weeks.
In contrast, in addition to a weekly guided reading session, more effective schools used a range of strategies to ensure that younger pupils and those in danger of falling behind read to someone every day. Such strategies included:
reading buddies where older pupils listened to younger ones
reading with siblings
reading to teaching assistants
reading to parent/volunteer helpers.
Inspectors noted that less effective schools did not move pupils on quickly enough to more challenging books and there was evidence from pupils’ reading diaries that not all staff responded speedily to parents’ requests for a book to be changed. In several of the classes observed, pupils did not read enough books or have their books changed quickly enough.
Case study of less effective practice Key Stage 1
All pupils had a reading book that they took home in a bag provided by the school. Books were banded according to difficulty and colour coded. Reading diaries were completed by parents and included informative, articulate evaluations. These were not acted on by teachers and there was little communication in these diaries between home and school. Parents were not sufficiently guided by teachers in ensuring that appropriate skills were practised or extended.
All schools provided some information to parents about their approach to teaching reading and phonics. Some of the strategies used by the more effective schools to engage parents included:
ensuring that the pupils’ phonics targets were printed in, or pasted onto, their reading diaries
providing information leaflets about phonics to parents
delivering workshops to parents, starting in EYFS and continuing through all year groups where pupils still needed phonics teaching
inviting parents into school for workshops so they could observe phonics being taught in Key Stage 1 and reading in Key Stage 2
sending home resources to help parents play phonic games at home, such as a pack of high frequency words, phonic games, phonics spinners, white boards, pens, flypads
asking parents to learn poems linked to the phonic scheme to support their child
having parents volunteer in school; some went on to receive qualifications and become teaching assistants.
However, the dialogue between home and school was not always as positive as the examples above. Inspectors observed instances where school staff did not build on the enthusiasm shown by some parents.
Case study of less effective practice hearing Key Stage 1 readers
Year 1 books were banded and pupils could choose freely from within the band.
Susan read confidently, competently and expressively. She considered words she was less sure of and mentally applied decoding skills. She corrected her own errors when she quickly applied comprehension for meaning and realised the word had not made sense. She used intonation well. She said she knew most words but knew skills such as segmenting as taught in school.
Mary understood the context of the story she was reading. She broke down the words into their constituent parts when she was unsure. When asked, she explained that her mother had taught her the decoding skills. She had been taught to break up words into smaller words or sounds.
Both girls had access to a wide range of books at home and spoke knowledgably about a range of authors, including David Walliams and Roald Dahl. They explained that they do not often read to the teacher at school. A visitor to the school hears all pupils in two classes so they just have to wait their turn. They could not say how long it was between the one-to-one sessions. Their reading diaries showed that there were not a lot of books read in a monthly period but the content of these individual books was extensive. Both girls had targets in their diaries, but they did not know what they meant. Both were absolutely sure that their teacher did not know how much they read at home.
In contrast, the following is an example of productive engagement with parents.
Case study of good practice Key Stage 1
In this school, children were heard to read frequently and, where they were not heard regularly at home, additional reading time was given in school. Books were carefully selected to be decodable and were changed often. There was good dialogue between home and school via the reading diaries. Guided reading sessions were purposeful and well planned, with a major focus on reading for understanding. Children heard stories every day and this was supplemented with rhymes – also learned at home for homework.
A frequently overlooked element of teaching reading in the less effective schools visited was the importance of establishing good behaviours and routines. For example, inspectors observed pupils not have reading bags or, in one or two cases, reading diaries, in class with them. In others where they did, there was not a common approach across classrooms to where/how reading bags would be deposited by pupils, who would change the books, when and so on. In some classrooms, pupils could not remember when they were supposed to bring in reading books or when they last did.
Anyone who knows me or who knows of me will appreciate that I am passionate about the importance of informing parents very well about the English alphabetic code, about phonics for reading and spelling - and handwriting - and that schools should do everything in their power to work in partnership with parents when it comes to reading.
To this end, I provide all the main resources - such as the Alphabetic Code Charts and all the phonics routines, the Simple View of Reading - and so on - via my various websites.
I have based both Phonics International and the ORT Floppy's Phonics Sounds and Letters programmes are core paper-based, content appropriate and content-rich resources going home in the children's 'Phonics Folders' as part of the schools' 'bookbag routines'.
It is not unusual, however, to find some schools that do collate the children's paper-based core resources in phonics folders, but these do not get sent home to inform parents or to work in partnership with parents. I find this most dismaying.
I also provide PowerPoints for both programmes to support with parents information events. These include references to the Simple View of Reading to explain the role of phonics and language comprehension and to encourage parents re talking all the time with their children and in the value of lots of exposure to literature.
All of these central practices can be easily read and understood through this document provided in the big pink button on the homepage of www.phonicsinternational.com
- and the information is relevant to both programmes:
The links in the document above leads to some important information about phonics including emphasis on the role and importance of the 'Phonics Folder' and how to set it up:
http://www.phonicsinternational.com/Set ... folder.pdf
You know the expression, however: "You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink".
In other words, no matter how well-thought through and designed the phonics programme, it is the strength and commitment to its delivery that will make the ultimate difference.
This is what the Ofsted report is showing us. All these schools provide some phonics, reading books, some reading opportunities, some liaison with parents - but it is clear that the results vary considerably for the children in the longer term.
And we simply MUST keep observing the details of what content and materials are used, and what teachers do with them, and what happens beyond them, to understand the true notion of 'best practice' to eradicate illiteracy and weak literacy.