Phonics teaches children how to read and write by developing their phonemic awareness—the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate different sounds used in the English language. Children learn the correspondence between these sounds and the spelling patterns (graphemes) that represent them. At Mount Stewart, we emphasise the teaching of phonics in the early years of reading and writing to give all children a solid foundation for learning. Because not all English language words comply with the rules of phonics, we also teach so-called ‘sight words’ by repetition and retrieval.
The Teaching of Phonics
Phonics lessons at Mount Stewart are taught daily from Nursery up to Year 2. The sessions are short, engaging, and memorable, emphasising revising a previously learned letter-sound correspondence, learning a new one, practising this, and applying it to sentence level work.
The phonics teaching begins in Nursery and Reception using the letters and sounds scheme alongside the EEF Flexible Phonics programme. Sounds are introduced at a rate of one a day throughout the Autumn and Spring term. Children consolidate these sounds in the Summer term whilst learning to blend the sounds to read and write words. In Years 1 and 2, the children also follow the DFE’s ‘Letters and Sounds’ scheme. Year 1 continues the practical phonics activities as part of the transition from the Early Years, learning alternative spellings of the previously known sounds and refining their knowledge to become more fluid readers and more accurate spellers.
The impact of using the phonics programme as the basis of phonics teaching within EYFS and KS1, will be for children to develop their phonics skills and knowledge through a systematic, synthetic approach while covering the statutory requirements outlined in the National Curriculum. The programme will prepare children for the statutory year 1 phonics screening check complements the DfE’s Letters and Sounds document. Following the programme ensures a consistent approach to phonics, which are clear to teaching staff and learners.
Progress in phonics is assessed and tracked half termly half-termly using a range of phase-specific assessments.
Close and regular assessment of children as they learn to read is vital if teaching matches their capacity to learn and if difficulties are to be identified and overcome when they first arise. At Mount Stewart, our quality first teaching (which follows the ‘Review-Teach-Practice-Apply’ cycle) provides opportunities for both formative and summative assessment. Teachers will use ongoing assessment from daily phonics lessons to identify those pupils who have not made good progress in that lesson. These pupils will be targeted for intervention/support within the same week. Daily assessment is directly used to inform future planning.
Teachers will use ongoing assessment, termly phonics assessments and independent application of learned phonemes in writing to make an overall judgement. This will be recorded in a termly phonics tracking grid.
End of Year Expectations:
The Phonics Screening Check
During the Summer term in Year 1, children nationwide are tested on their phonic knowledge. This test helps us identify children with gaps in their phonic knowledge and may need further support in Year 2. The test is low-key, and we endeavour to make it stress-free for the children. Essentially, the children are asked to read 40 words from a list, using their phonics to ‘sound out’ the word and then blend it if they need to. Parents are informed about whether their child has achieved the national expectation within the child’s end-of-year report. Parents are invited to Phonics Screening workshops.
Practising Phonics at Home
The best phonics resources are ordinary reading books, library books, reading scheme books and Bug Club books. Alongside the books, your child brings home, seek out readers that you and your child enjoy reading. Discuss words that present a challenge, breaking them down into their component sounds to read them if necessary. Make sure you set aside quiet time for reading and enjoying books together.
In addition to reading books, your child will have Phonics home learning. They practice the phase sounds taught that week. Additionally, they can also identify the phonics sounds when reading and spelling words. Play fun games with them, such as thinking of words that rhyme. Finally, your child will receive a word fan displaying ‘high-frequency words’ – common words that appear very often in written texts. They are a mixture of decodable words (words that can be sounded out) and sight words/exception words (words in which the English spelling code works unusually or uncommonly, which means the words must be learned and recognised by sight). The expectation is that by the end of Reception, children should be able to read most of these words, and by the end of Year 1, they should be able to spell most of them. Try to practise one word with your child from the list per day.
Handwriting, Spelling and Grammar
We use Letter Join for handwriting and Rising Stars Spelling for teaching all the common exception words and vocabulary content.
Handwriting is taught weekly from Reception to Year 6, beginning with mark-making and patterns in Early Years up to legible, joined handwriting in Year 6. When a child is deemed to have legible, joined writing, they are awarded a pen licence and a handwriting pen!
Spelling is taught from Year 1 – 6 every week, following the JMB Education Primary Spelling programme, which builds on the National Curriculum’s statutory word lists. Spellings are uploaded weekly on Google Classroom as part of homework, and children are tested each week.
In Years 5 and 6, Grammar becomes an explicit focus and is taught weekly using the Rising Stars Spelling programme. In the years before 5, Grammar is interwoven in English lessons.
This process continues into Key Stage 2, by which time children have mastered simple sentence structure, enabling them to develop their writing style.
As they progress towards Year 6, children are taught to write for various purposes – to entertain, inform, explain, persuade, and discuss – using explicit sentence models and ambitious vocabulary. They then learn to shape these sentences into coherent paragraphs before planning and creating their original works of fiction and non-fiction.
Children also apply their writing skills across the curriculum: writing up experiments in Science, recounting events in History and describing processes in Geography, for example.
When children leave Mount Stewart, they consider themselves skilled, creative writers, confident in their ability to express themselves through language.