No Child, However Impaired, Should Be Written Off

Ottakee’s short reports on her two adopted daughters appeared over a number of years on the informal Yahoo BRI: Beginning Reading Instruction forum. Dick Schutz, Director of the prestigious SWRL (Development, Southwest Regional Laboratory for Educational Research and Development) was the first to suggest the mapping of the Alphabetic Code. Together with a team of educational psychologists and psychometricians, children’s authors and teachers, he trialled and developed the BRI programme over a number of years, mainly in deprived schools in southwest America. Cunningly crafted stories (think Dr Seuss with far less room for manoeuvre) balance limited language with prosody and ‘practice, practice, practice’. The ease of BRI instruction is appreciated by teachers and children alike, and is especially effective for those with special educational needs. Ottakee had tried around seven programmes without success before her children learned to read. Here is her breakdown of the stats of her then 14-year-old daughter in one of her reports on the Yahoo forum:

‘They just did the Woodcock Johnson test with her. Her overall IQ score came out as 35 (with 100 being average) – so severely impaired. This is an age equivalency of 5 years, 5 months – or like most kids starting K[indergarten]. Her cognitive efficiency as 4 years, 11 months – so still a preschool level. her working memory was less than 4 years old – so very severely impaired.

Now, for the GOOD part. She scored 9 years, 6 months or 4th grade for sound blending, 8 years or end of second grade for word identification, 7 years, 3 months for reading fluency (2nd grade), 7 years, 8 months for spelling (end of 2nd grade), and end of 1st/early 2nd grade for passage comprehension, applied problems and writing samples.

Her phonemic awareness was 66 while her working memory was 15 (over 3 standard deviations from her average).

To me, this shows that BRI can and DOES work with kids with severe LDs and cognitive impairments. Her profile, with scores ranging from 36-87 (with 85-115 being normal for her age) this shows that she has a cognitive impairment as well as some significant learning disabilities. Thanks to BRI, her reading and spelling skills tested 20-30 points above her average IQ level.

They were at first going to put her in the SXI classroom where the severely mentally impaired kids attend – these are kids that are mostly non or very limited verbally, non readers, very basic functional skills, etc. Now they said she is the top reader in her special education room.’

An exploration of how schools with significant numbers of disadvantaged children achieve high literacy results – FINAL UPDATE

DfE COMPARE SCHOOLS PERFORMANCE 2017, 2018, 2019 SATs 2 Reading

With a few exceptions, the list below is limited to top performing schools in deprived areas of England, selected from the 100 best performing schools in Year 6. When phonic foundations are secure, combined with a strong book culture, schools with deprived intake often compare very favourably with those with a largely middle-class intake. Minimum reading score in 2019 is set at 110 (the average score for the 20,000+ primary schools is 104). Selection has been limited to schools with a minimum of 20 pupils in Year 6. There are also very large schools in deprived areas gaining impressive results, e.g. Elmhurst, Newham (Read Write Inc) with over 1000 pupils and 30+ first languages, that fall just below the arbitrary cut off score of 110.

Nearly all schools listed use one of three synthetic phonics programmes – Letters and Sounds, Jolly Phonics, Read Write Inc. Two have chosen controversial teaching approaches; although occasionally effective there is overwhelming evidence-based research – including the fall in literacy rates in the US and NZ – that failure is a far more common outcome than reading success for Reading Recovery. It contravenes Synthetic Phonics instruction and is extremely expensive. However, the headquarters of Reading Recovery are based at the Institute of Education; until that anomaly is confronted head-on, young students will continue to be trained by means of this largely Whole Language approach. It is a major contributor in the US to the ‘fourth grade slump’. Discovery Learning – ‘holistic’ and progressive methods of teaching – has also been the choice of one school. It can, in rare cases, be successful but needs to be treated with great caution.

New City Primary, Newham, London. Yr6 88 pupils. Disadvantaged 27. Reading Scores 107, 110, 112 (By end KS2 disadvantaged children in top 20%.)

Programmes: Jolly Phonics, augmented by Bug Club online programme, Letters & Sounds, PhonicsPlay.

Letter_to_parents_and_carers_about_online_phonics_lessons.pdf

‘Phonics is the way we teach children to recognise the sounds in words. It helps your child to learn to read and is an essential part of your child’s education. During the summer term, you will be able to access for your child a daily phonics lesson by clicking on Letters and Sounds for home and school.’ Covid19 homeschooling

Boutcher, Southwark, London. Yr6 31 pupils. Disadvantaged 7. Reading Scores 112, 110, 111

Programme: Jolly Phonics. Excellent book list for Reception. Much emphasis on reading to children

Vickerstown, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. Yr6 25 pupils. Disadvantaged 8. Reading Scores 109, 110, 111

Programmes inc: Oxford Reading Tree, Ros Wilson Big Writing.

Where possible, English skills taught within a meaningful context.’

St Antony’s RC, Newham, London. Yr6 62 pupils. Disadvantaged 17. Reading Scores 114, 113, 114

Programme: Read Write Inc.

St Thomas a Becket RC, Greenwich, London. Yr6 29 pupils. Disadvantaged 11. Reading Scores 109, 109, 114.

Programme: Read Write Inc. ‘Books changed 3 times a week.’

Perry Court, Bristol. Yr6 47 pupils. Disadvantaged 29. Reading Scores 104, 107, 111

Programme inc. Letters and Sounds + BRP for SEN literacy.

‘From worst school in Bristol to best in 2 years.’

Lea Forest, Birmingham. Yr6 60 pupils. Disadvantaged 44. Reading Scores 101, 106, 110

Programme: Letters and Sounds + Bug Club, Accelerated Reader.

Librarian (req. ‘Log in’). Info re phonics & PSC for parents.

Reading for pleasure is the single best indicator of a child’s academic success’ – OECD

Henderson Green, Norfolk. Yr6 30 pupils. Disadvantaged 15. Reading Scores 94, 104, 110

‘Parent support advisor working full-time. Coffee room, drop in.’

Marshfield, Bradford, Yorks. Yr6 60 pupils. Disadvantaged 20. Reading Scores 101, 105, 110

Website not available (Domain name for sale).

Bill Quay, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. Yr6 31 pupils. Disadvantaged 8. Reading Scores 108, 106, 112

Programme: Read Write Inc.

‘Promote love of reading throughout school.’

Wainstalls, Halifax, Yorks. Yr6 26 pupils. Disadvantaged 5. Reading Scores 110, 110, 111

Programme: Letters and Sounds augmented by Read Write Inc.

Top School in Calderdale at KS2.

[Berkswich CE, Stafford. Yr6 34 pupils. Disadvantaged 0. Reading Scores 115, 112, 112

Programme: Letters and Sounds augmented by Jolly Phonics, and Big Cat Phonics

Evidence suggests that children who read for enjoyment every day, not only develop greater reading skills than those who do not, but also develop a broader vocabulary, increased general knowledge and a better understanding of other cultures. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that reading for pleasure is more likely to determine whether a child does well at school than their social or economic background.’

In addition to ensuring firm phonics foundations, school advises parents to ‘feel free to try reading different high-frequency words at home’ and encourages tactile phonics learning in EY via ‘play-doh, pipe cleaners, writing on window, use a fly swat to splat words’ etc.]

[The Russell School, Rickmansworth, Herts. Yr6 22 pupils. Disadvantaged 0. Reading Scores 109, 110, 115

Programmes: Letters and Sounds, LCP, Phonics Play: + ‘materials drawn from wide range of schemes inc. Rigby Star, and ORT.’

‘Tables show that out of all the schools in Hertfordshire (481 schools), we are: 

1st for reading progress1st for maths progress, 1st for the percentage of our pupils achieving greater depth in reading, writing and maths combined, 1st in scaled scores for reading, maths and grammar, punctuation and spelling.’]

New Horizons Ch. Academy, Chatham, Kent. Yr6 37 pupils. Reading Scores -, -, 112

Programme: Letters and Sounds with Monster Phonics, Oxford Banded Books, a ‘Thinking School’ inc. DeBono’s Thinking Hats etc.

Orchard School, Streatham, London. Yr6 25 pupils (Muslim), Disadvantaged 15. Reading Scores 108, 106, 112

No information on website re phonics programme etc.

Nailsworth, Stroud, Glos. Yr6 25 pupils. Disadvantaged 8. Reading Scores 110, 110, 112

Programme: Letters and Sounds + Forest School. Guided Reading daily.

Top 1% for progress

Silloth, Wigton, Cumbria. Yr6 20 pupils. Disadvantaged 8. Reading Scores 107, 107, 112

Programme: Oxford Reading Tree, supplemented with banded books ‘to broaden experience’.

Pupil Premium funds for ‘high quality Phonics training for all KS2 staff’.

Thomas Jones, Kensington, London. Yr6 29 pupils. Disadvantaged 16. Reading Scores 112, 111, 111

Programme: Jolly Phonics with Pearson Bug Club. Noted for high quality, ambitious reading programmes throughout the school.

Outstandingly informative website.

Applegarth, Croydon. Yr6 61 pupils. Disadvantaged 46. Reading Scores 106, 113, 110

Programme: Success for All (SFA) grouped by ability, assessed every 2-3 weeks. Stated expectations, clearly laid out, detailed description.

St Joseph’s RC, Yr6 25 pupils. Disadvantaged 8. Reading Scores 107, 106, 112

Programmes: Letters and Sounds, Rigby Star, Big Cat Phonics, KS2 Destination Reader.

Holmleigh, Hackney. Yr6 30 pupils. Disadvantaged 12. Reading Scores 103, 108, 111

Programme: ? Difficult to locate relevant information with exception of ‘regular theme days’ and Bug Club Home Reading Programme.

Riverley, Walton Forest, London. Yr6 55 pupils. Disadvantaged 20. Reading Scores 107, 109, 111

Programmes: no information about phonics programme (?)

Ofsted report: ‘One of the many improvements has been in the teaching of reading. Senior and middle leaders have put in place a well-organised programme of phonics to ensure that pupils are able to use the sounds that letters make to read increasingly difficult words. Consequently, pupils in Years 1 and 2 are making brisk progress with their reading.’ A very positive report giving the impression of an extremely dynamic school.

Bailey Green, North Tyneside, Yr6 64 pupils. Disadvantaged 17. Reading Scores 106, 103, 111

Programme: Jolly Phonics with ORT.

St Mark’s CE, Stockton-on-Tees. Yr6 45 pupils. Disadvantaged 14. Reading Scores 104, 109, 110

Scant information on Phonics. ‘Read 2 decodable books a week’ and choose a ‘challenging reader’.

Newcomen, Redcar and Cleveland. Yr6 46 pupils. Disadvantaged 15. Reading Scores 108, 107, 111

Programme: Letters and Sounds. ‘Children are also taught to engage with texts and to focus on comprehension.

Our aim is that all children have a true passion for books and reading which develops their love of books and continues into adulthood.

We are extremely proud of our library.’ 

The Orion School, London NW7. Yr6 91 pupils. Reading Scores 107, 108, 111

Website: nothing relevant except ‘read at least 10 mins a day’ with parent.

Iqra, Brixton, London. Yr6 29 pupils. 16 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 110, 110, 111

Muslim Affiliation.

Programme. Letters and Sounds.

Comprehensive website information including:

 ‘In Key Stage 1 Reading and Writing skills are delivered through the specific area of English and enhanced in cross – curricular activities. We use a Power of Reading approach -immersing our pupils in high quality age appropriate texts and using these as a basis to promote drama, discussion, develop a rich vocabulary and foster a love of reading and of books. Teachers provide activities which are interesting and motivating and provide the best context for increasing children’s knowledge about the English language. Stage 1 Reading and Writing skills are delivered through the specific area of English and enhanced in cross – pupils curricular activities. We use a Power of Reading approach – immersing our pupils in high quality age appropriate texts and using these as a basis to promote drama, discussion, develop a rich vocabulary and foster a love of reading and of books. Teachers provide activities which are interesting and motivating and provide the best context for increasing children’s knowledge about the English language. It is also necessary to focus separately on aspects of knowledge about the language such as phonics and grammar so that children learn what they need to know in a systematic way. We plan English sessions flexibly and ensure that the appropriate balance of whole class, group and individual teaching is retained. Some more time in the week is set aside for guided reading, independent reading and writing across the curriculum. We make clear to children the qualities and success criteria we are looking for in their work. In Key Stage 1 children also have individual literacy targets in their books…It is also necessary to focus separately on aspects of knowledge about the language such as phonics and grammar so that children learn what they need to know in a systematic way. We plan English sessions flexibly and ensure that the appropriate balance of whole class, group and individual teaching is retained. Some more time in the week is set aside for guided reading, independent reading and writing across the curriculum. We make clear to children the qualities and success criteria we are looking for in their work. In Key Stage 1 children also have individual literacy targets in their books

Mayflower School, Tower Hamlets, London. Yr6 50 Pupils. 30 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 107, 114, 114

Literacy rich curriculum with storytelling ‘at the heart of the school. ‘Children hear stories which are then learnt orally, deepened through a variety of creative activities. By time they leave pupils will know 48 stories really well.’ Author visits, book launches for parents. 2 Reading Recovery teachers. Accelerated reading. Teachers, TAs, local visiting business partners also give children 1-to-1 reading support. 97% pass rate in PSC.

Average score in England 2019 is 104. Mayflower, with over 60% disadvantaged children, has average score of 114.

Our Lady of Lourdes, Brent, London. Yr6 26 pupils. Disadvantaged 9. Reading Scores 106, 102, 110

Programme: Letters & Sounds.

‘Teachers use a variety of teaching styles to engage your children and develop their motivation so they become successful and avid readers and authors.’

‘We place a strong emphasis on Phonics in the early years of learning to read because we believe this lays the foundations for successful reading and writing… All teachers have been trained on using L&S and receive regular updates and support from the Literacy Subject Leader.’ Book lists for all year groups recommended by Pie Corbett.

Staindrop CoE, Darlington. Yr6 28 pupils. Disadvantaged 6. Reading Scores 110, 111, 113

Programme: Read Write Inc.

I have quoted at length from their website as it provides the clearest example of how well a school can achieve with a strong book culture.

Reading is at the heart of our curriculum and we ensure our English curriculum gets children into books right from the start. From the important foundations using our systematic and structured Phonics program to our wizarding Library, Giant reading bed, playground Book Nook and stunning class reading corners- we make sure our school oozes books at every turn. Our Staindrop Book Awards excited staff, pupils and authors alike. Reading whole class quality texts as a basis for literacy and many other subjects makes sure that children are exposed to the best in children’s literature and a full range of genres. Many books studied are the first in a series in order to encourage children to develop reading on for pleasure. Poetry, non-fiction, digital texts and picture books feature through the English syllabus from EYFS to Year 6.

‘Children are taught to apply their phonics skills and improve fluency through the Readwrite story books used during these sessions.

‘All staff receive training and regular updates and development days to ensure continuity and increase staff confidence in delivering these sessions.

‘Children’s progress in phonics is closely tracked and children are regularly assessed and regrouped as appropriate. The Reading leader tracks progress and identifies children who require 1:1 intervention which is then implemented in order for children to catch up.’

KS2 Independent Reading Books

‘From KS2 onwards, children use the Accelerated Reader program to track progress and encourage them to read. Online Star tests identify children’s current reading levels and guide children to choosing books at an appropriate level. On completing books children take a short comprehension quiz and aim to score 100%. Various incentives run throughout the year where children can collect tickets for each 100% scored and win cinema trips, easter eggs or special experiences. This helps to incentivise reading and keeps children motivated to read and quiz.

‘Books can be chosen from our well stocked library, class reading corners, teacher VIP book shelves or books from home. Children keep a record of their own progress in their reading record books where they note down scores and write book reviews.

When children have read a million words this is celebrated with a special certificate and a £5 book voucher.’

Guided Reading

‘We use a whole class approach to guided reading in KS2. Whole class sets of books sourced from Durham Learning Resources are used. Texts are carefully mapped to link to books studied in Literacy lesson by genre, theme or Author. Several sessions a week are given over to reading the book and class discussion. One session a week is planned to teach a particular reading skill:

‘Vocabulary, Inference, prediction, evaluation, retrieval or summarising known in school as VIPERS. These lessons consist of a model question and practise questions for children to complete. Other written tasks may be used to further their understanding of the text. On a weekly basis VIPERS activities are used based on film clips, adverts, picture or text extracts as additional independent practise of these skills.’

Literacy Teaching

‘Reading as a fundamental part of literacy lessons and units of Literacy work are planned around and based on a quality text. Texts are mapped out across school to link with topics where appropriate and to ensure coverage of a range of genres, themes, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, authors, classical texts, new releases and best -selling authors. Contact with authors is encouraged and frequently classes tweet or email authors being studied and gain responses.’

Reading Spaces

‘The school is organised to promote reading and inspire children to read. We have a Harry Potter themed library where children can choose books for home reading and non fiction books for research during lessons. Our playground Book Nook provides a sheltered place where children can go to be quiet and read at playtimes. We also host story times for the younger children read by the older pupils. In classrooms appealing reading areas provide a place to sit or choose a book and are often themed around the texts being studied in school. Every teacher has a special VIP book shelf where they keep their latests books and lend them out to children to create a sense of awe and wonder around books. Often teachers will order new books specifically requested by children and we have been known to have these delivered to children’s homes in the holidays. Our KS1 book gallery displays the books being read in classes to encourage discussions between staff and pupils. Reading is such a huge part of school life that teachers have even set up their own books clubs outside of school’.

 Celebrating Reading

‘We celebrate reading through our now yearly book awards. We start by taking pupils to our local book shop to choose the shortlisted books, followed by whole school readings of the books. Children and staff then vote for the winners. We contact the authors and are excited for their responses. Children write book reviews and share the awards via social media. World Book Day is celebrated every year in a variety of ways such as door decorating competitions, chair creating activities, a giant reading bed and dressing up. Author visits enhance the work we do in school.’

Bevington, London W10. Yr6 44 pupils. Disadvantaged 26. Reading Scores 114, 111, 113

Programme: Letters and Sounds/Read Write Inc. 15 mins daily. ORT reading + ‘real books’.

Egglescliffe CoE, Durham. Yr6 29 pupils. Disadvantaged 5. Reading Scores 104, 109, 110

Programme: detailed phonics teaching but no specific information (?) on programme adoptedORT book scheme + 13 other decodable schemes.

Redesdale, Wallsend, N.Tyneside Yr6 25 pupils. Disadvantaged 5. Reading Scores 106, 101, 110

Programme: Read Write Inc. ‘In school we have reading stages from Stage 1 to 14 then children move onto free readers. The scheme is a mix of Oxford Reading Tree books and real books to give the children a wide range of reading material.’

New Seaham Academy, Durham. Yr 6 37 pupils. Disadvantaged 7. Reading Scores 108, 109, 110

Programme: Read Write Inc. With wide range of decodable books inc. ORT, Songbirds, Rigby Star, Project X.

High Literacy Schools with Disadvantaged Children – UPDATE

An insight into how some schools with significant numbers of disadvantaged children achieve high literacy results (updated version)

DfE COMPARE SCHOOLS PERFORMANCE (Reading) 2017, 2018, 2019

With a few exceptions, the list below is limited to top-performing schools in deprived areas of England, selected from the 100 best-performing schools in Year 6. Minimum reading score in 2019 is set here at 110 with the average for the 20,000+ primary schools being 105. Selection is limited to schools with a minimum of 20 pupils. Nearly all schools listed use one of three synthetic phonics programmes – Letters and Sounds, Jolly Phonics, Read Write Inc. Schools with deprived intake often compare favourably with those with a largely middle-class intake.

Website information indicates that the overwhelming majority of schools listed have benefited from systematic synthetic phonics foundations. However, a minority have also included controversial teaching elements; in rare occasions it appears that outliers such as Reading Recovery or Discovery Learning can be effective but overwhelming evidence-based research and the fall in literacy rates in US, NZ, and Wales, for instance, suggest that failure is a far more common outcome. ‘Holistic’ and progressive methods of teaching reading can be successful but need to be treated with great caution.

New City Primary, Newham, London. Yr6 88 pupils. Reading Scores 107, 110, 112

Programmes: Jolly Phonics, augmented by Bug Club online programme.

By end KS2 disadvantaged children in top 20%.

Boutcher, Southwark, London. Yr6 31 pupils. Reading Scores 112, 110, 111

Programmes: Jolly Phonics and Letters & Sounds.

Vickerstown, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. Yr6 25 pupils. Reading Scores 109, 110, 111

Programmes inc: Oxford Reading Tree, Ros Wilson Big Writing, Nelson Handwriting.

Where possible, English skills taught within a meaningful context.’

St Antony’s RC, Newham, London. Yr6 62 pupils. 17 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 114, 113, 114

Programme: Read Write Inc.

St Thomas a Becket RC, Greenwich, London. Yr6 29 pupils. Disadvantaged c.40%. Reading Scores 109, 109, 114

Programme: Read Write Inc. Books changed 3 times a week.

Perry Court, Bristol. Yr6 47 pupils. 29 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 104, 107, 111

Programme inc. Letters and Sounds + BRP for SEN literacy.

‘From worst school in Bristol to best in 2 years

Lea Forest, Birmingham. Yr6 60 pupils. 44 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 101, 106, 110

Programme: Letters and Sounds + Bug Club, Accelerated Reader.

Librarian (req.‘Log in’). Info re phonics & PSC for parents.

Reading for pleasure is the single best indicator of a child’s academic success’ – OECD

Henderson Green, Norfolk. Yr6 30 pupils. 15 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 94, 104, 110

‘Parent support advisor working full-time. Coffee room, drop in.’

Marshfield, Bradford, Yorks. Yr6 60 pupils. 20 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 101, 105, 110

Website not responding

St Edmund’s Tower Hamlets, London. Yr6 25 pupils. Reading Scores 110, 112, 112

Website not responding

Bill Quay, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. Yr6 31 pupils. 8 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 108, 106, 112

Programme: Read Write Inc.

‘Promote love of reading throughout school.’

Wainstalls, Halifax, Yorks. Yr6 26 pupils. 5 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 110, 110, 111

Programme: Letters and Sounds augmented by Ruth Miskin Inc.

Top School in Calderdale at KS2.

[Berkswich CE, Stafford. Yr6 34 pupils. 0 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 115, 112, 112

Programme: Letters and Sounds augmented by Jolly Phonics, and Big Cat Phonics

Evidence suggests that children who read for enjoyment every day, not only develop greater reading skills than those who do not, but also develop a broader vocabulary, increased general knowledge and a better understanding of other cultures. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that reading for pleasure is more likely to determine whether a child does well at school than their social or economic background.’

In addition to ensuring firm phonics foundations, school advises parents to ‘feel free to try reading different high-frequency words at home’ and encourages tactile phonics learning in EY via ‘play-doh, pipe cleaners, writing on window, use a fly swat to splat words’ etc.]

St Theresa’s RC, Oldham, Lancs. Yr6 28 pupils. 17 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 101, 108, 110

Phonics Programme: Website ‘details to be added soon.’

The Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) data suggests that the proportion of pupils living in the 10% most deprived LSOAs is substantially higher than the Oldham primary school average. In fact, based on the IMD data where 30.4% of Oldham Primary School pupils live in the 10% most deprived areas, 58.1% of pupils at St. Theresa’s R.C. live in similarly deprived areas. 

[The Russell School, Rickmansworth, Herts. Yr6 22 pupils. 0 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 109, 110, 115

‘Tables show that out of all the schools in Hertfordshire (481 schools), we are: 

1st for reading progress1st for maths progress, 1st for the percentage of our pupils achieving greater depth in reading, writing and maths combined, 1st in scaled scores for reading, maths and grammar, punctuation and spelling.’

Phonics Programmes: LCP/Letters and Sounds + ‘materials drawn from wide range of schemes inc. Rigby Star, and ORT.’]

New Horizons Ch. Academy, Chatham, Kent. Yr6 37 pupils. Reading Scores -, -, 112

Phonics Programme: Letters and Sounds with Monster Phonics, Oxford Banded Books, a ‘Thinking School’ inc. DeBono’s Thinking Hats etc.

Orchard School, Streatham, London. Yr6 25 pupils (Muslim), 15 disadvantaged.

Reading Scores 108, 106, 112

Nailsworth, Stroud, Glos. Yr6 25 pupils. 8 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 110, 110, 112

Phonics Programme: Letters and Sounds. + Forest School. Guided Reading daily.

Top 1% for Progress

Silloth, Wigton, Cumbria. Yr6 20 pupils. 4 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 107, 107, 112

Phonics Programme: Oxford Reading Tree, supplemented with banded books ‘to broaden experience’.

Pupil Premium funds for ‘high quality Phonics training for all KS2 staff’.

Thomas Jones, Kensington, London. Yr6 29 pupils. 16 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 112, 111, 111

Phonics Programme: Jolly Phonics with Pearson Bug Club. Noted for high quality, ambitious reading programmes throughout school.

Applegarth, Croyon. Yr6 61 pupils. 46 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 106, 113, 110

Phonics Programme: Success for All (SFA) grouped by ability, assessed every 2-3 weeks. Stated expectations, clearly laid out, detailed description.

St Cuthbert’s RC, Windermere. Yr6 28 pupils. 2 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 107, 112, 112

Website in transition.

St Joseph’s RC, Yr6 25 pupils. 8 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 107, 106, 112

Phonics Programmes: Letters and Sounds, Rigby Star, Big Cat Phonics, KS2 Destination Reader.

Holmleigh, Hackney. Yr6 30 pupils. Pupil Premium c.39%. Reading Scores 103, 108, 111

Phonics Programme: difficult to locate relevant information with exception of Bug Club Home Reading Programme.

Riverley, Walton Forest, London. Yr6 55 pupils. 20 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 107, 109, 111

Phonics Programmes: website devoid of information about curriculum (?)

Bailey Green, North Tyneside, Yr6 64 pupils. 17 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 106, 103, 111

Phonics Programme: Jolly Phonics with ORT.

St Mark’s CE, Stockton-on-Tees. Yr6 45 pupils. 14 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 104, 109, 110

Little information on Phonics. ‘Read 2 decodable books a week’ and choose a ‘challenging reader’.

Newcomen, Redcar and Cleveland. Yr6 46 pupils. 15 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 108, 107, 111

No website.

The Orion School, London NW7. Yr6 91 pupils. Reading Scores 107, 108, 111

Website: nothing relevant except ‘read at least 10 mins a day’ with parent.

Iqra, Clapham, London. Yr6 29 pupils. 16 disadvantaged, 26 EAL. Reading Scores 110, 110, 111

Muslim Affiliation. No information on website.

Mayflower School, Tower Hamlets, London. Yr6 50 Pupils. 30 disadvantaged, 47 EAL.

Reading Scores 107, 114, 114

Literacy rich curriculum with storytelling ‘at the heart of the school. ‘Children hear stories which are then learnt orally, deepened through a variety of creative activities. By time they leave pupils will know 48 stories really well.’ Author visits, book launches for parents. 2 Reading Recovery teachers. Accelerated reading. Teachers, TAs, local visiting business partners also give children 1-to-1 reading support. 97% pass rate in PSC.

Average score in England 2019 is 104. Mayflower, with over 60% disadvantaged children, has average score of 114.

Our Lady of Lourdes, Brent, London. Yr6 26 pupils. 9 disadvantaged, 23 EAL. Reading Scores 106, 102, 110

No information on phonics/further reading/literacy.

Staindrop CoE, Darlington. Yr6 28 pupils. 6 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 110, 111, 113

Reading daily using either flashcards or green/red words to practice. Books changed 3 times a week.’

Bevington, London W10. Yr6 44 pupils. 26 disadvantaged, 27 EAL. Reading Scores 114, 111, 113

Phonics Programmes: Letters and Sounds and Read Write Inc, including modelling reading, guided reading, reading lists, information from Home reading – Ruth Miskin Phonics Training

Redesdale, North Tyneside. Yr6 25 pupils. 5 disadvantaged, 1 EAL. Reading Scores 106, 101, 110

Phonics Programme: only information (?) Yrs 2-6 Read Write Inc. Spelling 15 mins daily. ORT reading + ‘real books’.

Egglescliffe CoE, Durham. Yr6 29 pupils. 5 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 104, 109, 110

Phonics Programme: detailed phonics teaching but no specific information (?) on programme adoptedORT book scheme + 13 other decodable schemes.

New Seaham Academy, Durham. Yr6 37 pupils. 7 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 108, 109, 110

Phonics Programme: Read Write Inc. With wide range of decodable books inc. ORT, Songbirds, Rigby Star, Project X.

No Excuses! Schools in Deprived Areas Produce Outstanding Results with Dedicated Decoding and Book Culture

DfE: COMPARE SCHOOLS PERFORMANCE (Reading) 2017, 2018, 2019

With a few exceptions, the list below is limited to top-performing schools in deprived areas of England, selected from the 100 best-performing schools in Year 6. Minimum reading score in 2019 is set here at 110 with the average for the 20,000+ primary schools being 105. Selection is limited to schools with a minimum of 20 pupils. Nearly all schools listed use one of three synthetic phonics programmes – Letters and Sounds, Jolly Phonics, Read Write Inc. Schools with a deprived intake often compare favourably with those with a largely middle-class intake.

Website information indicates that the overwhelming majority of schools listed have benefited from systematic synthetic phonics foundations. However, a minority have also included controversial teaching elements; in rare occasions it appears that outliers such as Reading Recovery or Discovery Learning can be effective. Overwhelming evidence-based research and the fall in literacy rates in the US, New Zealand, Finland and Wales, for instance, suggest that failure is a far more common outcome. ‘Holistic’ and progressive methods of teaching reading need to be treated with great caution.

New City Primary, Newham, London. Yr 6 88 pupils. Reading Scores 107, 110, 112
Programmes: Jolly Phonics, augmented by Bug Club online programme
By end KS2 disadvantaged children in top 20%

Boutcher, Southwark, London. Yr 6 31 pupils. Reading Scores 112, 110, 111
Programmes: Jolly Phonics and Letters and Sounds

Vickerstown, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. Yr 6 25 pupils. Reading Scores 109, 110, 111
Programmes inc: Oxford Reading Tree, Ros Wilson Big Writing, Nelson Handwriting
‘Where possible, English skills taught within a meaningful context.’

St Antony’s RC, Newham, London. Yr 6 62 pupils, 17 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 114, 113, 114
Programme: Read Write Inc

St Thomas a Becket RC, Greenwich, London Yr 6 29 pupils, c.40% disadvantaged
Reading Scores 109, 109, 114
Programme: Read Write Inc, books changed 3 times a week

Perry Court, Bristol. Yr 6 47 pupils, 29 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 104, 107, 111
Programmes inc: Letters and Sounds + BRP for SEN literacy
‘From worst school in Bristol to best in 2 years’

Lea Forest, Birmingham. Yr 6 60 pupils, 44 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 101, 106, 110
Programme: Letters and Sounds + Bug Club, Accelerated Reader
Info re phonics & PSC for parents

‘Reading for pleasure is the single best indicator of a child’s academic success’ – OECD

Henderson Green, Norfolk. Yr 6 30 pupils, 15 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 94, 104, 110
‘Parent support advisor working full-time. Coffee room, drop in.’

Marshfield, Bradford, Yorks. Yr 6 60 pupils, 20 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 101, 105, 110
Website not responding

St Edmund’s, Tower Hamlets, London. Yr 6 25 pupils. Reading Scores 110, 112, 112
Website not responding

Bill Quay, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, Yr 6 31 pupils, 8 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 108, 106, 112
Programme: Read Write Inc
Promote love of reading throughout school

Wainstalls, Halifax, Yorks. Yr 6 26 pupils, 5 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 110, 110, 111
Programme: Letters and Sounds augmented by Read Write Inc
Top School in Calderdale at KS2

Berkswich CoE, Stafford. Yr 6 34 pupils, disadvantaged 0. Reading Scores 115, 112, 112
Programme: Letters and Sounds augmented by Jolly Phonics, and Big Cat Phonics
‘Evidence suggests that children who read for enjoyment every day, not only develop greater reading skills than those who do not, but also develop a broader vocabulary, increased general knowledge and a better understanding of other cultures. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that reading for pleasure is more likely to determine whether a child does well at school than their social or economic background.’ In addition to ensuring firm phonics foundations, school advises parents to ‘feel free to try reading different high-frequency words at home’ and encourages ‘tactile phonics’ learning in EY via ‘play-doh, pipe cleaners, writing on window, use a fly swat to splat words’ etc.
Recommended Reading

St Theresa’s RC, Oldham, Lancs. Yr 6 28 pupils, 17 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 101, 108, 110
Phonics Programme: Website ‘details to be added soon.’
‘The Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) data suggests that the proportion of pupils living in the 10% most deprived LSOAs is substantially higher than the Oldham primary school average. In fact, based on the IMD data where 30.4% of Oldham Primary School pupils live in the 10% most deprived areas, 58.1% of pupils at St. Theresa’s R.C. live in similarly deprived areas.’

The Russell School, Rickmansworth, Herts. Yr 6 22 pupils. 0 disadvantaged.
Reading Scores 109, 110, 115
‘Tables show that out of all the schools in Hertfordshire (481 schools), we are: 1st for reading progress, 1st for maths progress, 1st for the percentage of our pupils achieving greater depth in reading, writing and maths combined, 1st in scaled scores for reading, maths and grammar, punctuation and spelling.’
Phonics Programmes: LCP/Letters and Sounds + ‘materials drawn from wide range of schemes inc. Rigby Star, and ORT.’

New Horizons Ch. Academy, Chatham, Kent. Yr 6 37 pupils. Reading Scores -, -, 112
Phonics Programme: Letters and Sounds with Monster Phonics, Oxford Banded Books, a ‘Thinking School’ inc. DeBono’s Thinking Hats etc

Orchard School, Streatham, London. Yr 6 25 pupils (Muslim), 15 disadvantaged.
Reading Scores 108, 106, 112

Nailsworth, Stroud, Glos. Yr 6 25 pupils. 8 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 110, 110, 112
Phonics Programme: Letters and Sounds +Forest School. Guided Reading daily.
Top 1% for progress

Silloth, Wigton, Cumbria. Yr 6 20 pupils, 4 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 107, 107, 112
Phonics Programme: Oxford Reading Tree, supplemented with banded books ‘to broaden experience’
Pupil Premium funds for ‘high quality Phonics training for all KS2 staff’

Thomas Jones, Kensington, London. Yr 6 29 pupils, 16 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 112, 111, 111
Phonics Programme: Jolly Phonics with Pearson Bug Club. Noted for high quality, ambitious reading programmes throughout school

Applegarth, Croydon. Yr 6 61 pupils. 46 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 106, 113, 110
Phonics Programme: Success for All (SFA) grouped by ability, assessed every 2-3 weeks. Stated expectations, clearly laid out, detailed description.

St Cuthbert’s RC, Windermere. Yr 6 28 pupils, 2 disadvantaged. Website in transition. Reading Scores 107, 112, 112

St Joseph’s RC, Yr 6 25 pupils, 8 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 107, 106, 112
Phonics Programmes: Letters and Sounds, Rigby Star, Big Cat Phonics, KS2 Destination Reader

Holmleigh, Hackney. Yr 6 30 pupils, Pupil Premium c.39%. Reading Scores 103, 108, 111
Phonics Programme: difficult to locate relevant information with exception of BugClub Home Reading Programme

Riverley, Walton Forest, London. Yr 6 55 pupils. 20 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 107, 109, 111
Phonics Programmes: information lacking on website

Bailey Green, North Tyneside. Yr 6 64 pupils. 17 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 106, 103, 111
Phonics Programme: Jolly Phonics with ORT

St Mark’s CE, Stockton-on-Tees. Yr 6 45 pupils, 14 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 104, 109, 110
Little information on Phonics: ‘read 2 decodable books a week’ and choose a ‘challenging reader’

Newcomen, Redcar and Cleveland. Yr 6 46 pupils. 15 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 108, 107, 111
No website

The Orion School, London NW7. Yr 6 91 pupils. Reading Scores 107, 108, 111
Website: nothing relevant on website except ‘read at least 10 mins a day’ with parent.

Iqra, Clapham, London. Yr 6 29 pupils, 16 disadvantaged, 26 EAL. Reading Scores 110, 110, 111
Muslim affiliation. No information on website.

Mayflower School, Tower Hamlets, London. Yr 6 50 pupils, 30 disadvantaged, 47 EAL.
Reading Scores 107, 114, 114
Literacy rich curriculum with storytelling ‘at the heart of the school. Children hear stories which are then learnt orally, deepened through a variety of creative activities. By time they leave pupils will know 48 stories really well.’ Author visits, book launches for parents. 2 Reading Recovery teachers. Accelerated reading. Teachers, TAs, local visiting business partners also give children 1-to-1 reading support. 97% pass rate in PSC.
Average score in England 2019 is 104. Mayflower, with over 60% disadvantaged children, has average score of 114.

Our Lady of Lourdes, Brent, London. Yr 6 26 pupils, 9 disadvantaged, 23 EAL. Reading Scores 106, 102, 110
Website: No information on phonics/further reading/literacy.

Staindrop CoE, Darlington, NE. Yr 6 28 pupils, 6 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 110, 111, 113
‘Reading daily using either flashcards or green/red words to practice. Books changed 3 times a week.’

Bevington, London W10. Yr 6 44 pupils, 26 disadvantaged, 27 EAL. Reading Scores 114, 111, 113
Phonics Programmes: Letters and Sounds and Read Write Inc, including modelling reading, guided reading, reading lists – more information

Redesdale, North Tyneside. Yr 6 25 pupils, 5 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 106, 101, 110
Phonics Programme: scant information, including Yrs 2-6 Read Write Inc Spelling 15 mins daily. ORT reading + ‘real books’

Egglescliffe CoE, Durham. Yr 6 29 pupils, 5 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 104, 109, 110
Phonics Programme: detailed phonics teaching but no information on specific programme adopted. ORT book scheme + 13 other decodable schemes

New Seaham Academy, Durham. Yr 6 37 pupils, 7 disadvantaged. Reading Scores 108, 109, 110
Phonics Programme: Read Write Inc. With wide range of decodable books inc ORT, Songbirds, Rigby Star, Project X

Ending the Reading Wars: The Importance and Limitations of Decodable Readers

The admirable objective of decodable books is to provide a ‘safe’ place to practice newly learned skills. One problem is that an over-cautious use of decodables can exacerbate a yawning language gap. This is particularly true for children with poor language skills as the books inevitably lack the flexibility of language that breathes life into stories and reveals nuance and shifts of meaning. Children starved of the experience of interactive language need bucket-loads of enhancement as well as rigorous phonics exposure.

It’s essential to read to children but they also need the experience of reading language-rich stories themselves as early as possible to accustom them to sustained reading. This, as a general rule of thumb, is after children have been introduced to around 80-100 correspondences. (With scrupulously structured decodables, possibly earlier still.)

‘When we talk of closing the word gap, we actually mean something much bigger than that unassuming phrase implies. We mean welcoming a child into a world of new ideas, insights and emotions, into a world that we, the word-rich, take for granted, and which we will routinely guarantee for our own children.’
Geoff Barton, General Secretary, the Association of School & College Leaders

Professor Kate Nation explains how schools need to get the right balance between phonics and comprehension skills (TES): Two sets of things are critical for early readers. You have to understand how the writing system works – the idea that letters represent sounds…And then the other side of the coin is that we read to comprehend, too. We need that alphabetic principle, but we also need a broader understanding of language…Language is important for reading but also for emotional regulation and self-expression. I don’t think the impact of rich communication can be over-estimated.’

In a major paper, ‘Ending the Reading Wars: Reading Acquisition From Novice to Expert’ (Sage Journals) Anne Castles, Kathleen Rastle, and Kate Nation review the science of learning to read and move beyond phonics, reviewing the research on what else children need to become expert readers and consider how this may be translated into effective classroom practice. They ‘present a tutorial review of the science of learning to read…but we also move beyond phonics…and recommend an agenda for instruction and research in reading acquisition that is balanced, developmentally informed, and based on a deep understanding of how language and writing systems work.’

And in an erudite and thought-provoking report from the DfE,  Gill Jones  hits the nail right on the head: ‘…We have ignored this at our peril and the resulting disappointing reading results at 11 could well be a consequence of privileging over-cautious phonics over the wider teaching of literacy.’

Decodable readers are unquestionably an excellent teaching tool, a central factor in learning to read and, for struggling students, provide crucial additional practice. However, these restricted readers might benefit from a slight structural adjustment. BRI: Beginning Reading Instruction is an example of a programme that introduces subtle changes by recalibrating single-syllable cvc words in their stories and interspersing this structure with a few Advanced Code words. This minimal loosening of cvc constraints encourages fluidity and expressiveness while broadening the range of vocabulary and, most importantly of all, foregrounds the importance of story. As Daniel Willingham has noted (danielwillingham.com): ‘Elsewhere I have written about the potential power of narrative to help students understand and remember complex subject matter (Willingham, 2004; 2009). Now a new study (Arya & Maul, 2012) provides fresh evidence that putting to-be-learned material in a story format improves learning outcome.’

By means of carefully drip-feeding a few single-syllable Advanced Code words into its early readers, BRI allows for multi-layered meanings, while also signalling Alphabetic Code complexity in the gentlest way possible. Just as little children begin to distinguish that everything on four legs is not a dog, that there are different kinds of dogs and that dogs differ from cats, so they quickly accept that ‘e’ and ‘ee’ can stand for the same sound and that ‘e’ can stand for more than one sound, e.g., me and met. The addition of carefully selected Advanced Code allows language to escape the bondage of constricted, often wooden, readers. By mid to end Year l, most children should have progressed beyond the constraints of minimal text decodables. Kate Nation observes that ‘contextual knowledge builds over time as each encounter a person has with a word adds to their database of information about that word…over time, words occurring in varying contexts with varying contents becomes more context independent than words appearing in more similar contexts.’

Many academic reading experts – including Daniel Willingham, Mark Seidenberg, Anne Castles, Katie Rastle and Kate Nation – stress the importance of narrative. It may be only the weakest c.5% of readers who need more time with traditional, restricted decodables in order to stabilize their foundational skills. So why not make sure that the majority of children are well on their way to enjoying ‘real’ books by Year 2?

20 Reasons to Teach Children to Read Using BRI Decodable Readers

BRI Beginning Reading Instruction

BRI (Beginning Reading Instruction). This series of decodable readers is designed to be a tool for teaching the ‘how to’ of reading. The programme consists of meticulously sequenced books. Incremental introduction of the Alphabetic Code is based on painstaking research including widespread school trials. Text in the books is limited to single-syllable words, making the early steps of reading as easy as possible to enable learners to read ALL the words in the story.

The books are used by teachers in mainstream Reception and Y1 and in special schools. They are particularly beneficial for struggling readers; a daily 5-15 minute session with a TA or a volunteer, in addition to mainstream synthetic phonics teaching, will normally preclude the need for later reading intervention.

How Children Learn to Read

1. Clear, brief, easy-to-use instruction

BRI instruction is spare and unambiguous. By consistently focusing on decoding-through-the-word, the books avoid the ‘mixed strategies’ which confuse many children.
“Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” – Isaac Newton

2. Preventing memory overload

Only five graphemes and three words are introduced in the early storybooks. Children with poor short-term memory gain confidence by narrowing the focus of their attention and by learning new material at their own pace.
“Approximately 70% of children with learning difficulties in reading obtain very low scores on tests of working memory that are rare in children with no special educational needs.” – Gathercole & Alloway, Working Memory and Learning: A Practical Guide for Teachers

3. Lightening the cognitive load

Children learn best when they aren’t grappling with too many confusing ideas (i.e. multi-cueing). Complexity is detrimental to Alphabetic Code understanding.
“We have overcomplicated teaching.” – Jo Facer, ResearchEd 2016

4. Building memory

Words and correspondences are regularly revisited.
“Learning requires long-term memory retention, and what most aids retention is frequent retrieval practice.” – Joe Kirby, Pragmatic Education

5. Spaced repetition

Information is better retained if it is studied for brief periods, spread over a few days or weeks, rather than intensively in a single period. All new sound/letter correspondences are repeated many times in each short book and in subsequent books.

6. Multiple exposures

BRI’s beginning to read stories provide examples of ‘controlled’ words and sound/letter correspondences repeated in the same, and also in different, contexts.
“The best way to help the brain to ‘remember’ the code’s patterns with minimum effort is through ‘controlled exposure and varied repetition.'” – Diane McGuinness, Early Reading Instruction

7. Interleaving (mixing related but distinct material)

As they progress through the early books, children learn how to deal with ‘variation’ in the code (same sound represented in more than one spelling: e.g. memeet) and ‘overlap’ (the same spelling representing more than one sound: e.g. on, no).
“The mixing of items, skills, or concepts during practice, over the longer term, seems to help us to not only see the distinctions between them but also to achieve a clearer grasp of each one individually.” – Benedict Carey, How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where and Why it Happens

Technical Matters

8. Phonemic awareness

Training children to ‘hear’ discreet phonemes is particularly helpful for those with phonological difficulties.
“We learn phonemic awareness THROUGH learning to read.” – Professor Usha Goswani

9. Blending made easy

Careful selection of specific sounds in the early books helps children to make the connection between sound and letter. For children with SEN and those who struggle to blend, the selection makes it easier for them to ‘hear’ each sound as they blend sounds into words. The introduction of ‘plosive’ sounds, e.g. /p/, are delayed and words which contain an /ə/ (schwa) sound are introduced later still.

10. Visually similar words

Juxtaposing look-alike words (e.g. sheet/shall/shell/shut/sell) means that attention has to be paid to each grapheme within a word. This ensures that the ‘easy option’ – guessing – is discouraged.

11. Connected text

Essential decoding/reading practice is incorporated within lively, expressive stories.
“Arya & Maul provide fresh evidence that putting to-be-learned material in a story format improves learning outcomes.” – Daniel T. Willingham

Language

12. Oral language

The most important predictor of progress in the early years is oral language. BRI stimulates childrens’ development of oral language and comprehension by encouraging dialogue about the antics, behaviour and relationships of the BRI animal characters.

13. Speech development

‘Sound-through-the-word’ instruction focuses on sound and aids phonological awareness and speech development. When we articulate a sound a sensory and motor reference is created in the brain.

14. Vocabulary

BRI’s 78 storybooks encourage a habit of sustained reading which leads to new vocabulary.
“After the age of 5, we acquire most new vocabulary through reading. But if we don’t read, we don’t acquire it.” – David Didau

15. Language concepts

BRI builds on the questions What? Why? Where? Who? and emphasises prepositions such as under, over, on, behind, helping children to build language structure and understanding.

16. Story context

BRI stories centre on lively animals with thinking, feeling and reactive personalities. Character-driven stories encourage children to immerse themselves in the reading process from the very first book as they learn to decode/read.
“John Hattie and Daniel Willingham argue that learning is much more effective if it is contextualised.” – John Walker, The Literacy Blog

17. Fostering a love of reading

BRI stories immediately engage children with the multi-layered world of storytelling that helps to foster a love of reading.
“Reading creates empathy. In reading we project ourselves into others’ experiences.” – Horatio Speaks

18. Visual Supports

Lively, engaging illustrations act as visual supports, helping children to understand narrative. The illustrations – which never aid guessing – are of crucial help to those with Speech Language and Communication (SLC) and those with Speech Language Impairment (SLI) difficulties. Puppets of the main characters also aid communication and understanding.
“Children with SLI need lots of visual support systems to help with understanding.” – I CAN, SLI Handbook

19. Prediction

By encouraging children to talk about what is happening and what may happen, the storybooks encourage comprehension whilst honing decoding skills.
“The activity of ‘prediction’ helps build children’s narrative sense, a fundamental foundation language skill, incorporating sequence, relationship, cause and effect and other variables as well…” – ‘Palisadesk’, Beginning-Reading-Instruction Forum

20. Rereading stories

Rereading the short BRI decodable books embeds skills, enhances comprehension, encourages expression, and helps to boost confidence.
“On rereading a book the adult can ‘scaffold’ the child’s learning, asking questions, providing guidance, helping the child make new connections or draw on past experiences. Indeed, the adult can support not only the learning of educational material, but also the ‘soft skills’ necessary to succeed: focus, patience, persistence, resilience…” – Annie Murphy Paul, The Brilliant Blog

Getting Decodables Right for Dyslexic, SEN and other Struggling Readers

Each effective synthetic phonics programme, both for able and struggling readers, possesses advantages and drawbacks – costs, quality and length of training, ease/difficulty of implementation, extent of class preparation, flexibility, and so on. Most schools, including successful reading schools, follow the government Letters and Sounds programme, the long-established Jolly Phonics programme – chiefly used in conjunction with Letters and Sounds – or Ruth Miskin’s ReadWriteInc. Other programmes also have their merits and their implementation will need to be considered ‘in the round’ and assessed for their effectiveness for both high achievers and weaker readers. It is this second category of potential readers that is largely left out in the cold, in spite of all the advances during the last decade.

The overwhelming majority of top-performing schools in the SATs 2 tests (https://www.compare-school-performance.service.gov.uk) augment their teaching with decodable readers compatible with their phonics instruction. In theory, decodables provide vital practice for everyone. In practice, they don’t – there is still a significant tail of underachievement. The books frequently lack the overlearning and language flexibility so necessary for weaker readers. Decodable books for beginners generally focus on just one specific meaning of a word. These books are very helpful for the majority of children. But for those who need masses of language development including much exposure to code in different contexts, and blending practice in sustained reading, this inflexibility is a handicap. To ensure effective learning, flexible language, multiple word repetitions in different contexts, and memorable and engaging characters that prompt empathy, need to be inbuilt. By judiciously mixing single-syllable words using simple code with a few advanced code graphemes, story-telling is completely transformed. Contrary to the perception of many, carefully chosen advanced code correspondences have no drawbacks and many benefits. Children have no difficulty with intelligent drip-feeding of advanced code, provided that instruction is consistent, clear and to the point. Adam Boxer in his blog: https://achemicalorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2018/10/25/simplifying-cognitive-load-theory quotes Frederick Reif’s Applying Cognitive Science to Education: ‘it is very clear that we should not be aiming to just lower the load as much as possible. If we do this the learning will take an incredibly long time as we make tasks smaller and smaller but also, importantly, that it will become exceedingly boring and demotivating for the student.’

In addition to a lack of sufficient repetition and overlearning, many series advance too fast for weak readers, with most decodable books making little allowance for the slowest pupils. Schools often cling to inappropriate books with impossible-to-decode words for early learners (sometimes because schools lack the funds to replace them). In this way, they help to set up vulnerable readers for long-term failure and all the implications thereof. Alison Clarke of Spelfabet has a brilliant video explaining why some children become bamboozled when trying to figure out the complexities of the alphabet code: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mafVooDom8k.

All children benefit from systematic phonics, augmented with decodable books, but struggling readers also need their decodables to be meticulously planned, slowly paced, with loads of inbuilt practice. And, in order to aid the TAs, volunteers, parents and carers who will be responsible for guiding their young charges, the  books need simple, logical, succinct instructions.

Starting with a brief to make learning to read as easy as possible, a team of educationalists, psychometricians and teachers, in tandem with children’s authors, spent around five years mapping the alphabet code in order to plan deceptively simple decodable books. An emphasis on language development, slow and safe drip-feeding of code, judicious addition of a few words with advanced code, enabled the creation of stories that trigger both curiosity and empathy, with instruction that avoids tedium and overload. These design features (and more) were part of the initial planning when Beginning Reading Instruction: BRI was designed. A minority of other decodable series, such as Little Children Love Literacy, contain some of these features including the extra practice essential for the majority of SEN children and other weak readers.

To summarise: the existing decodable programmes are generally ineffective for SEN, dyslexic and other struggling readers. The solution is specially developed reading schemes that cover all the additional needs of these vulnerable pupils.

The winning combination: Systematic Synthetic Phonics foundations + strong book culture

‘Best Primary Schools’ have been selected from the SUNDAY TIMES BEST 250 PRIMARY SATs 2 STATE SCHOOLS for 2016. Additional DfE ‘Compare Schools Performance’ data has been added from 2017 and 2018. A reading score of 110 during one of the 3 years is a minimum requirement for inclusion. (Average school reading score is 103/104.) Information about individual schools is taken from school’s own website.

Most top-performing schools understand that the Alphabetic Code is paramount – the code is sound-based and is taught accordingly. In general, schools emphasise language development and wider reading as a deeply embedded part of their agenda. Spelling receives surprisingly little attention on schools’ websites and – with the exception of Christ Church, Chelsea – few top-performing schools, as far as I can ascertain, appear to follow logical sound-based spelling during initial teaching. (Kate Nation in TES recently noted the importance of language as well as phonics and stated that spellings are organised around the interrelation of morphology, etymology, and phonology after initial teaching.) Most schools appear to follow the half-hour phonics timetable, followed by one hour literacy.

Virtually all successful reading schools use established SSP programmes – Letters and Sounds, Jolly Phonics in Reception followed by L&S or ReadWriteInc.

A selection of schools with high rates of Pupil Premium (20%+)

St Stephen’s East Ham London E6 1AS
Reading Score 2016-2018: 111, 111, 111
387 pupils.
Letters and Sounds, Nursery. Jolly Phonics, Reception. Letters and Sounds Yr 1 Phase 2-5. Yr 2 4-5.
Website information sparse – emphasis on phonics, reading meetings with parents, weekly h/w planning.

St Antony’s RC Newham London E7
Reading Score: 111, 111, 111
484 pupils.
9th best state primary results.
Number of clubs extensive.
RWInc.
Scant information on phonics. Lunch-time reading club. Over 20 TAs and volunteers, 9 HLTAs, school therapist, detailed info on grammar, ‘additional phonics and reading support and RW resources across school’.

Edward Pauling Feltham TW13
Reading Score: 113, 107, 110
10th best state primary results.
2 form entry.
RWInc.
From Requires Improvement to Outstanding: ‘Our school has won the regional and national award for 2016, congratulations to all staff, governors, parents and pupils for the exceptional achievement.
Please see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/schools-tackling-disadvantage-celebrated-at-pupil-premium-awards for more details.
Our daily Guided Reading takes place within KS1 and KS2 using “Project X”. In addition we also use Project X Code and Project X Origins as intervention programmes to support our more and less able readers. Our parent volunteers come into school to support our pupils with their reading development by hearing individual readers and small guided groups on a weekly basis.
Discrete teaching of phonics takes place throughout the Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1, following the RWInc scheme http://www.ruthmiskin.com. Additionally, the phonics skills are applied through daily literacy lessons and across the wider curriculum.
We have created our own spelling system based on the National Curriculum 2014 requirements.
Writing skills are taught daily throughout discrete literacy lessons, as well as through science and humanities lessons. Pupils are assessed on their progress in writing by completing a Big Write at the end of a unit of work. Vocabulary, Grammar and Punctuation (VGP) are taught as a pure subject once a week in KS1 and KS2, as well as daily through small group work and lesson introductions where necessary.’

Thomas Jones Paddington London W11
Reading Score: 112, 112, 111
11th best state primary results.
‘Analysis of national test data shows there has been no relationship between the achievement of pupils and Free School Meals status since 2006.
Both the technical aspects of decoding language and the opportunity for pupils to develop a love of literature, is one of the most important aspects of school life here at Thomas Jones. The school’s approach to the teaching of reading has been documented in the Ofsted report Reading by Six: How the Best Schools Do It and through the launch of the Ofsted Moving English Forward report and Building an Outstanding Reading School. Our success with the teaching of reading can be seen through our national test results.

Through the Foundation Stage and Key Stage One, our pupils follow a rigorous system of synthetic phonics, based on the Jolly Phonics scheme. Alongside this, pupils in this phase of the school have access to high quality books, both to study in legitimate English lessons and to read independently. The school follows the Pearson Bug Club reading scheme, supplemented with other high quality books banded into the scheme.

By Key Stage Two, the great majority of pupils are reading independently.’

Boutcher Southwark, London SE1
Reading Score: 111, 112, 110
=72nd best state primary results.
l form entry.
All Pupil Premium funds allocated to literacy and speech & language programme. Letters and Sounds with additional Jolly Phonics.
‘At Boutcher Phonics is taught daily throughout the Early Years and Key Stage One. Children then continuously build and apply this phonic knowledge throughout Key Stage 2. We teach phonics through the songs from the Jolly Phonics scheme, from Phase 4 we follow the Letters and Sounds scheme from DfE Publications.’

Christchurch Ilford
Reading Score: 111, 111, 110
26th best state primary results.
5 form entry.
Jolly Phonics.
‘Yrs 2-6 Some children may still require a Jolly Phonics books to support their learning but most will simply have a weekly Oxford Reading Tree book. These are used for guided reading and will be changed on a weekly basis. As the children progress onto more challenging books they may keep them for longer than a week. In addition to scheme books, children also have the opportunity to take home Free Readers, which are non-scheme books appropriate for the child’s reading level and ability. These will still be sent home and used for Guided Reading.’

Smaller % of children with Pupil Premium

Hotwells Bristol
Reading Score: 107, 109, 113
‘We use the Read Write Inc scheme to support the teaching of early phonics at Hotwells. The scheme is introduced in Reception class and used throughout Key Stage 1. Some children need continued support with the learning of phonics in Key Stage 2 and for these children, additional teaching in small groups continues, using the Read Write Inc scheme, until their knowledge of phonics is secure. Every year we organise meetings for parents so that they can become familiar with our approach to teaching phonics and can support their children at home in the same way they are learning to read and write in school. One of the most valuable things parents can do to support learning at home is to ensure that their children read regularly; with an adult when they are younger and independently as they get older.

We also have theme days and weeks during the school year which promote and inspire a particular aspect of learning, for example our pupils have been inspired by Arts Week, Music Week and STEM Week over the past two years. A range of exciting events are organised during these special weeks and many members of the school community become involved, helping to make them a fun and memorable time for all the children.’

Scotts Hornchurch, Essex
Reading Score: 114, 108, 113
2nd best state primary results.
2 form entry.
Letters and Sounds + project based + strong reading emphasis.
‘Teaching our children not only to become proficient readers, but to develop a love of reading is of vital importance at Scotts Primary School. Evidence suggests that children who read for enjoyment every day not only perform better in reading tests than those who don’t, but also develop a broader vocabulary, increased general knowledge and a better understanding of other cultures. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that reading for pleasure is more likely to determine whether a child does well at school than their social or economic background.

At Scotts, we teach our children to read using a systematic synthetic phonics approach. We use the Letters and Sounds Programme, which the children begin upon arrival in Reception.

Guided Reading takes place daily in all year groups. Throughout Reception and Key Stage 1, children read on a one-to-one basis with an adult once a week. Where children are not meeting national expectations for their age group, this may be more frequent. In Key Stage 2, children read individually to an adult once a fortnight.’

Clover Hill Newcastle upon Tyne
Reading Score: 113, 114, 109
4th best primary school result.
Letters and Sounds, with Jolly Phonics actions.
‘Clover Hill Phonics scheme in operation is written in conjunction with Letters and Sounds.

Key Stage 1 Guided reading and reading books for home is called ‘Storyworlds’ and ‘Rigby Star.’ And Jolly Phonics actions in R. and Yr l.

Children read once a week with teachers – reading workshop sessions 5 times a week – independent activities during guided reading designed to support & consolidate phonics already covered.

Children in Year 2 record their phonics work on mini-whiteboards. Children will attempt to write daily, using their phonics knowledge, at their stage of development in all areas of class work. Children’s phonic activities will be predominantly delivered through games and through activities set up in class. Tricky words are taught alongside phonically decodable words…

Discreet phonics lessons twice weekly.

We see parents as the primary educators and therefore use their talents, interests, ideas and expertise to contribute to the children’s learning wherever possible. Working in partnership with parents is a key contributing factor in the achievement of our children.’

St Stephens London W12
Reading Score: 113, 113, 111
=5th best primary results.
Letters and Sounds curriculum (Jolly Phonics and Phonics Play).
Strong emphasis on readers with love and appreciation of books and literature. Very active school library and reading events with parents.
Home learning Policy involves teachers, parents and children working together.
What Books Should I Read? e.g. Year 3
Weekly Spelling lists for home.
‘Phonics is taught daily to all children in EYFS and Key Stage 1. Phonics is also taught to children in Key Stage 2, who require further support with phonics and reading.

Much of our phonics teaching takes place in small groups which are targeted to the needs of particular learners.

We use a combination of the following reading scheme books in the Early Years and Key Stage 1:

• Oxford Reading Tree
• Rigby Stars
• Collins Big Cat
• Project X
• Phonic Bug Club’

Lowbrook Academy Maidenhead
Reading Score: 111, 112, 110
=5th best state primary school
Little information on website.
‘Reception Homework We will be changing your child’s reading book on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday but please re-read the books, as repetition is the key to early reading. They will have a library book once a week which they will choose themselves and can keep for the week.

Communication, Language and Literacy To begin with we will be doing a lot of work on traditional nursery rhymes. Each day the children will be learning a new rhyme. We will then begin to learn single letter sounds, learning how to blend these words together to read and how to segment words into individual sounds to help them to write words. Throughout the year speaking and listening skills will be developed through various activities.

The children will be reading individually and in small groups. They will be learning about story language through reading a range of books together. Reading well-written stories is a very important foundation for their own future story writing. As well as hearing your child read every day, we encourage you to continue sharing stories together.’

Ludgvan Penzance
Reading Score: 113, 108, 108
=5th best state primary results.
RWInc and Topic curriculum.

Our Lady of Victories RC London SW7
Reading Score: 112, 112, 112
8th best state primary results.
RWInc.
Little info on website; lots of clubs, staff mainly Afro-Caribbean(?).

Park Road Sale Manchester
Reading Score: 110, 109, 109
16th best state primary results.
Letters and Sounds + Jolly Phonics. Very broad curriculum.

‘Phonics is taught in half hourly sessions from Monday to Friday in Reception and Key Stage 1. Each child’s phonics knowledge is assessed every term. Children from Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 are taught in 9 mixed groups so that we ensure that teaching is matched to their stage of learning for this important skill. Our teaching is based on the Letters and Sounds scheme and incorporates resources from various companies.

Phonics sessions take place every day in Year 1. If children need to continue with phonics strategies in year 2, they are taught the strategies needed on a daily basis. Phonics activities are practical and fun, to encourage learning – they follow the Letters and Sounds progression. During shared and guided reading, phonics work is reinforced in the context of real texts. Writing activities follow on from shared reading.

Phonics is taught daily and follows the Letters and Sounds document (a systematic synthetic phonics approach). Jolly Phonics is used to support the letters and sounds approach. It covers all the pre requisite skills for reading such as sound identification, sequencing, reproduction and discrimination.’

St Mary and All Saints Beaconsfield, Bucks
Reading Score: 113, 108, 109
17th best state primary results.
Letters & Sounds + Jolly Phonics.
– v. comprehensive info for parents
– talk4writing Pie Corbet and also Corbet’s grammar progression
– Comprehensive explanation of L&S on website
– Comprehensive book list for each year

St Elizabeth’s RC Richmond on Thames
Reading Score: 111, 112, 110
19th best state primary results.
Letters and Sounds, with Jolly Phonics to supplement learning.
Observation: Traditional foundational skills and progressive learning. (Is this balance easier to achieve in an area of great wealth where most children will benefit from book-rich, language-right homes…?)
Reception: Children learn through play in Reception. Play is very important since it demands from the children concentration, perseverance and mental and physical effort. We aim to encourage children to explore, experiment, question, take risks, make and learn from mistakes, and provide them with opportunities for listening, reflecting and praying. We want the children to have fun and enjoy learning. The role play area is frequently changed to match the topic taught within the classroom, and performances and acting are actively encouraged. There is a ‘Show and Tell’ session each week where children can bring in an item that is special to them or an object relating to a topic which they would like to talk about. Every child is given this opportunity and encouraged to think of open ended questions to ask their peers.

Yr l: Literacy, Mathematics, reading and handwriting are taught daily and the remaining curriculum subjects are taught using a topic approach. The children continue to receive daily Phonics, often led by Fuzzy Phonics the puppet Macaw and in the Summer Term each child’s phonic knowledge is statutorily assessed… Pupils continue to develop their creativity and imagination by exploring the visual, tactile and sensory qualities of materials and processes. They learn about the role of art, craft and design in their environment. One of the topics that Year 1 children really enjoy is designing and making their own room which gives them a wonderful opportunity to use their imagination.

Children are particularly encouraged to improve their communication skills by speaking and listening carefully.

Homework (Yr 6): Reading It is expected that children will read for 30 minutes each evening. We ask that children write the date, title of the book and a comment in their reading records. To encourage independence, children are responsible for bringing their reading books home in their packets each evening and ensuring that their reading packet is taken into school each day. In addition, children will be issued a class core text, which remains the property of the school. This should be kept in their reading packet and be available for reading in school every day. Children may be asked to read selected passages of this text at home at the teacher’s discretion and related work may be set. This book must be returned to school when requested in the condition it was issued. Missing copies will need to be replaced. A comprehension task will be set on a Friday and returned to school on Monday.

Spelling books will be sent home each Friday. The spelling pattern/rule that these words follow should be discussed with an adult. Other words that follow the same pattern/rule should be explored. Using the words brought home, the children should complete a spelling activity from the spelling menu which is found in the front of your child’s spelling book. Spelling books should be returned by Monday. Please use the school handwriting style to complete the spelling activity. In each half-term holiday the children should revise all the spelling patterns/rules learned during the previous half-term. Your child will be given the Year 6 National Curriculum word list to become familiar with and should be encouraged to spell these words correctly in his/her writing.
In Year 1 children will enjoy a rich and diverse curriculum, enhanced by a variety of inspiring workshops and visitors. Children will also enjoy memorable visits to The Discovery Centre in Bracknell and a local area walk to Richmond Park.

Two well resourced libraries [and] a number of popular lunchtime Book Clubs…with over 100 children currently attending across the school. Each month [the Librarian] selects a book that is suitable to be read aloud to children in both Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. Details about the book will be published together with links to associated activities and games that can be enjoyed as a family.

Read Aloud initiative. Parents encouraged to read to their children including Yr 6.

There are many events for the children throughout the course of the school year to promote literacy and reading for enjoyment, including Roald Dahl Day, National Poetry Day, Book Week and the Termly Reading Challenge. In addition, there are several creative writing competitions as well as the ‘Star Readers’ initiative.’

Hampton Gurney London W1
Reading Score: 111, ??, ??
12th best state primary results.
l form entry.
Letters and Sounds, RWInc, Jolly Phonics & Nessy.
‘Reading is a complex skill with many components. Successful approaches to the teaching of reading should encourage children to use a variety of strategies in their pursuit of meaning with phonics as the way of decoding. Jolly Phonics is used in Nursery and Read Write Inc is used in the rest of the school. Reading should be a valuable and rewarding aspect of the children’s learning and consequently should open the door to a world of knowledge.’

Bourne Cambridge
Reading Score: 112, ??, ??
=20th best state primary results.
Small village school.
RWInc.

Lightwoods Oldbury, West Midlands
Reading Score: 111, 104, 106
=20th best state primary results.
Letters and Sounds. One of few schools to specifically mention spelling other than either LCWC, and/or unstructured spelling h/w lists.
‘Other texts, not linked to a scheme, by well-known authors, are also studied to ensure children experience a wealth of literature.

‘No Nonsense Spellings’ are taught in class to secure understanding of spelling rules. Speedy Spellings are sent home on a weekly basis. These spellings are linked to sound patterns and tricky words and are personalised to meet the needs of your child. Practising spelling at home helps to reinforce and consolidate learning.’

Holy Cross Sutton Coldfield
Reading Score: 112, 111, 107
=20th best state primary results.
RWInc.
Small school – little info on website.

Saint Bedes Redcar
Reading Score 112, 115, 107*
24th best state primary results.
No information about the school apart from a glowing Ofsted from 2009.
*requires improvement 2019

Tennyson Road Luton, Bedfordshire
Reading Score: 110, 115, 107
RWInc.
‘At Tennyson Road we are proud of our reading results from reception to Year 6. The children are immersed in a ‘book’ rich curriculum which opens their worlds to a million different experiences each and every day. Through the wide variety of texts that we explore we teach a complexity of grammar and punctuation skills to our children; this means the children naturally use it in their own work helping them to develop exciting, creative and mature pieces of independent writing. At Tennyson Road we know ‘How to teach guided reading like a boss!’ which is a new guided reading programme which enables us to explore challenging texts, music and images as part of our morning sessions each day. The programme enables the children to independently develop 4 core English skills: Identify, Compare, Contrast and apply. We are proud to follow the programme and are seeing exceptional progress across all year groups.’

Other Points

Pupil Premium information
It would be helpful if all school websites could detail how Pupil Premium funds are allocated – for instance, Three Bridges school in London is exemplary in the detailed information it provides. The school spends £75,000 of its Pupil Premium (211 pupils eligible) employing 2 part-time reading teachers to support lowest attaining pupils in Yrs l, 2, 3 – £15,000 on phonics-based books for EYFS and Yr l – and ‘whatever it takes’ training in Sounds-Write for new staff.

Commitment to book culture

Thomas Jones and a number of high performing schools such as Christ Church, Chelsea, convey the seriousness of working to the highest standards, with ambitious reading lists, some with librarians, if employed, with detail of approaches to reading – including cases of guided reading, silent reading, and aiming to ensure that all children read in every lesson.

Importance of understanding of generic SSP

Practical, long-term solution to making sure that teachers have a comprehensive understanding of generic synthetic phonics so that when changing school there is no difficulty for staff in adjusting programme content and structure. Hubs will, I understand, chose a specific programme for training under performing schools. Yet we know that in areas of high poverty there is an even greater turn-around of staff than is normal in primary schools. If teachers have a good generic training, they are in a position when changing schools to adapt their SSP teaching.

See http://www.tcrw.co.uk for website providing explanation and examples of generic training.

 

Every child a reader – and every child a talker

As well as laying the foundations for a lifetime of literacy by instilling rigorous decoding skills, Piper Books’ BRI series offers lots of opportunities for children to develop spoken language, including those with Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) or Special Educational Needs (SEN). Each book includes several questions to open up discussion on everything from plot to personalities. Below are brief sketches to assist parents and teachers in exploring the cast of characters with their children.

Sam the Lion

As befits the King of the Jungle, Sam is somewhat pompous and self-regarding. He is also rather lazy and gets mightily irritated when disturbed by friends in search of fun. He is, however, as quick to forgive as he is to anger. He perhaps isn’t quite as brave as one might expect of a lion. Hobbies include reading, dressing up, canoeing, lurking in caves, surfing and bus-driving.

Mat the Rat

A lively little fellow, Mat is never afraid to bite off more than he can chew. The over-excitable Rat loves hats, reading, painting, baseball, scuba-diving and frolicking with his friends – irrespective of whether or not they’re in the mood. He’s smarter than he looks, often taking the initiative to solve problems that mystify his larger friends, and fancies himself as a bit of a teacher. He is, sadly, not above framing others for his own misdemeanours.

Mit the Chimp

Underneath Mit’s cheery exterior lurks a surprisingly Machiavellian character. This is, after all, the guy who cunningly disguises himself as Sam the Lion, traumatises his friends with a pair of stilts, and literally ties Sis the Snake in knots. He enjoys lurking in trees and – slightly less traditionally for a member of the great ape family – creating kites and snowmen.

Sis the Snake

Sis makes up in warmth and enthusiasm what she lacks in acumen. Naturally, she shares an apple-obsession with her biblical ancestor. She’s prone to hypochondria and falling down wells.

Will the Elephant

More stolid than his mercurial chums, Will has nonetheless earned his place in their affections with his readiness to provide shade on hot days, rides when they get tired, and assistance with the weeding. He harbours a secret desire to be a fish.

Ann the Giraffe

Rather obsessed by her own appearance – to the extent of tottering around on high heels – Ann has the misfortune to repeatedly suffer the theft of her flower-bedecked hat. She very much enjoys boating and fishing. The absence of her friends rapidly sends her spiralling into depression.

Nan the Parrot

The cheeriest of creatures, Nan is always happy to use her powers of flight to fetch and carry for her playmates.

Sid the Horse

Not over-endowed in the brains department, Sid is more highly-strung than his mates, being known to burst into tears when their escapades go wrong. He’s highly susceptible to bribery, sharing as he does Sis’s fixation with apples. Sid’s also not above giving Mat a hefty kick when the impish Rat is pulling his tail.

Nat the Kangaroo

Baby Nat is blessed with the kind of scatterbrained mother who fails to notice when he accidentally falls out of her pouch – or deliberately hops off in search of adventure. He has a phobia about rain, unsurprisingly given his desert heritage.

Nell the Ostrich

Even vainer than Ann the Giraffe, Nell enjoys a Narcissus-like relationship with her mirror. Her bedraggled comeuppance is inevitable…

Ed the Dog

Stuck with the usual canine desire to please, Ed frequently helps his livelier, more mischievous chums out of scrapes. Only occasionally does the underdog get a chance to shine, but he does make a rather good cook, and once played detective very successfully.

Ben the Ant

Ben relishes riding on buses and elephants. He holds his own amongst his larger friends – in fact, his tiny size comes in handy when they all prove too heavy to extract themselves from the mud.

Surmounting severe SEN problems in teaching children to read

Part l

In 2004 Ottakee joined the support forum BRI – Beginning Reading Instruction, formed by tutors and teachers to explore, discuss and share information about the BRI reading programme. Thousands of school children with weak reading skills, including severe cognitive difficulties, have also benefited from this carefully constructed synthetic phonics programme.

Determined to teach her older daughter, Jane, to read, by 2004 Ottakee had tried 7 reading programmes without success. In that year, she embarked on Beginning Reading Instruction: BRI with Jane. She described her older daughter as ‘looking and acting more like [a child with] an IQ in the 60s but testing out at 38 with scores ranging from 20-120.’ Although Jane was the most severely affected of her three adopted children, both her girls were born with multiple special needs including mitochondrial DNA mutation; her son was born with foetal alcohol syndrome.

Extracts from Ottakee’s posts are reprinted with minimal editing.

I am hoping to use BRI with my 8dd Jane who is borderline mentally impaired. So far NOTHING has worked even though she knows all of her sounds and can spell the words. I had taught my son with fetal alcohol and an IQ of 53 to read and that was EASY compared to his sister. I will be starting in 2 weeks with Jane who can not read at all even though she knows all of her sounds and can spell the words; she also has some language delays. If BRI works with her I think it will work with just about any student.

Year l

We just did the sounds and flashcards for book 1…She knew all of the sounds already except /ee/ but picked that up quickly. She did read book l ‘I see Sam’ today and was very proud of herself.

I figure that I will have to move very slowly with her. My ideal goal is two books per week. I figure on Monday we will introduce and read the story, Tuesday repeat the story, work on spelling the words, review, etc. Wednesday a new story with Thursday review and Friday maybe games and reviewing the previous stories. I don’t think she will mind at all rereading the stories.

Maybe over time we can move faster but even at one story a week she will be making more progress than we have with any other program.

My 7-year-old old daughter, Sue (IQ 85), is reading some of the books to me just for fun. She stumbled more than I thought she would. I think this is because she can’t ‘read’ the pictures and the words like sit, sis, Sam, etc all look close so you can’t just use the first letter to guess. I am thinking about working her through the whole set, just at a faster pace – maybe 1-2 books per day as she picks up things more quickly.

Later

We do 1-2 sessions per day 5 days a week and even some review on the weekends if we need it. We just did book 12 of set 1 with Jane today. It is still slow going. I just think that she is a child that needs LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of exposures to a word. BRI seems to give her a REASON for tracking left to right. She really struggled with that even after vision therapy. I noticed yesterday she is slowly tracking left to right and it makes SENSE to her now that she can read a tiny bit.

Jane has severe speech and language delay, severe stuttering (worst possible score), complex-partial seizures, ADHD, mild hearing loss, and a huge host of medical issues which require 5-8 different medications per day. She also tests like a brain injury child and may have been a shaken baby. We do know that she had very little stimulation/nurturing during her 1st 8 months of life. She was kept with her hands strapped down and her face covered much of the time.

The neuropsychologist was very impressed yesterday when we went in to see her. Jane is now reading a tiny bit and even read some things out of a standardized test that she has NEVER seen in BRI. They were things like green (she knew the /ee/ sound from see), red box, etc.

My just-turned-8 daughter, Sue, is basically repeating 1st grade. I am home schooling so we just go at her own pace. She is on book 6 of BRI 3 since the start of school this year. I am very pleased with her progress.

Year 2

Just thought I would give a progress report.

Sue is on ARI 1. She is doing OK but slowing down with all of the word endings. Also her meds for ADHD are not at the right dose. We are increasing it starting tomorrow. We will see if that helps as well. Over all though her progress is good. 9-year-old Jane read book 19 of set 1 today. I was very surprised at how well she did.

Just as an aside, I showed this program to my sister. She started the books with her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter last week. Today they called to say they had both just read book 3. These little tykes have no learning disabilities and the 3-year-old is very verbal/bright but I thought I would share their success so far.

Spring

Well, we are now on book 4 of BRI 3 with 9-year-old Jane. So far, so good. She is struggling a little with blending 2 sounds together like the /d/ /r/ in drum, /s/ /l/ in slip, etc but once we go over it once or twice she gets it for the rest of the story – and even the next book.

My 8-year-old daughter Sue started the program last September so she has been doing this for about 12 months now. She is on book 3 of ARI 2. She is also doing a lot of BRI reading.

Summer

9-year-old Jane is now on book 12 of BRI 3. She started last September as well. At first it was taking us one week per book then we went to 2 books a week and now we are up to 1 new book per DAY. Yes, she is still quite behind but she is transferring this knowledge to other books. Also, she was never expected to be able to learn to read so we are pleased with her progress.

Year 3

Just another note since my daughter Jane is in ARI 1. I honestly don’t think she would test well in other books. YES, she can read the words she knows from BRI in other easy readers and even some with the same code BUT throw in too many of those hard sight words/advanced code words that many K/1st grade kids learn and she would be totally lost.

Even with my 8 1/2 daughter Sue who has a low average IQ and LDs didn’t really start reading off BRI stuff until about mid ARI 2. Even now she still struggles with some words that she hasn’t gotten the code for yet.

Spring/Summer

9-year-old Sue (LDs, low average IQ and VERY ADHD) started out with ARI 2 this fall and read through set 2, 3, and most of 4 when she transitioned to LOTS of library books. She is now reading just about anything she wants from the children’s section. She is not doing much with chapter books as she really likes picture books – but will sit and read 5 or more picture books in a sitting (non fiction too).

10-year-old Jane (mild mental impairment, seizures, severe stuttering, speech and language delays, ADD and a host of other medical issues, and a rapidly changing eye glass prescription). She started out the year with BRI 3. We worked our way through BRI 3, ARI 1 and part of ARI 2 but the stories were just getting too long. We re-read BRI 3 and ARI 1 but the stories in ARI 2 were still too long. No real problem with the code, mostly just the length of the story. We are again re-reading the Boosters and she LOVES them.

Ottakee’s support for a parent on the BRI forum:

Just want to encourage you to keep going. It IS slow moving but look at how much your daughter has learned with you compared to what she would have learned without you and your BRI books.

BRI can’t be beat for teaching them to READ – decode the words.

You were not around 18 months ago when I started this process. If you can go back in the messages that far you can see just how TOUGH this was for my 10-year-old daughter Jane back then. It took us 6 MONTHS – not weeks or days, but MONTHS to get through set 1. Fast forward, 18 months. My 9-year-old daughter Sue is reading just about anything she wants – about a 3rd grade level and 10-year-old Jane who struggled so much is working on ARI 2 which is the end of 1st grade.

Use the NOTCHED CARD and show her only ONE sound at a time (remember ee/th/sh, etc are one sound). That way she HAS to say the sounds. If she just sees the ‘S’ she won’t know if the word is sit, sat, set, see, Sam, etc. If she sees the ‘m’ the word could be meet, men, me, mat, mit, etc – she has to blend the sounds one by one. Then show the next sound, then the last sound. Have her then blend the word. If she still doesn’t get it – model it over and over and over again – then start again.

…Try to keep the sessions short – maybe 10-15 minutes twice a day would be best but no more than 20 minutes at a time for ALL of the activities – reading, flashcards, and spelling work.

…One more note, with tough kids it can take WEEKS to get through the first few books. I modelled the blending over and over and over and over again for my dd. It took her likely 100+ tries to get ‘Sam’ down. We would get through it on page one and then do it AGAIN on page 2. I just kept working in 10-15 minute session, once or twice a day, and SHE GOT IT. She is now in ARI 2 and doing great with the blending of new sounds into words. This might not be easy but it does work.

Part 2 to follow…