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A New Approach To Phonics Intervention

The past 18 months has created a huge disruption for many children. But how has it impacted the very youngest learners? Marie Smailes, Head of School at Rustington Community Primary, explains how her work to create a new phonics programme has helped support the children who were getting to grips with the foundations for learning.


Phonics is the cornerstone of a child’s learning. Here at Rustington, one of our core focus areas has been on helping the children who struggle to read, catch up quicker. Before the pandemic, we had put a good programme in place; and had seen some encouraging progress. Specifically, this approach had seen us identifying a group of children in our Early Years cohort who needed additional input. We were keen to put in place additional teaching so these children could keep up with the rest of their cohort, and from January 2020 began delivering interventions to provide the support needed.


And then here, as everywhere else across the country, our school landscape changed in a way we could never have expected, with many of our children experiencing long periods of home learning as part of lockdowns. During this difficult period we worked hard to keep in touch with families, providing daily online phonics lessons so the children could keep up whilst learning at home. With the impact of the lockdowns very much in our minds, it felt like we needed to have a fresh approach for this area, ready to implement quickly.


In September 2020, when children started returning to school, we worked to identify the pupils who faced greater challenges with their phonics than others. Some hadn't been able to access online lessons and others had been identified as needing additional support before the pandemic. Our review of the Year 1 children showed that out of the cohort of 90, seven were identified as not working at phase 1 of the phonics programme and a greater number than usual needed consolidation before moving on. Our phonics lead devised a bespoke programme for the main group, and the other seven identified children were targeted for a new intervention. Some of this smaller group had the potential to go on to be classified on the SEND register as they were having difficulty retaining any of the phase 1 sounds, but the disruption in their reception year with us made this a much harder judgement.


With this in mind we began an eight-week phonics programme which would be taught in a style which worked best for each individual child. Of course the lockdowns in early 2021 thwarted us somewhat, but we made a start later in the year when we were fully open again. The programme itself took the form of two or three 30-minute one-to-one sessions a week covering sounds, tricky words and letter formation.


We based the interventions on the neurodiversity model, getting to know each learner, and using kinaesthetic activities where appropriate to help create a multi-sensory approach to promote engagement and success. For example, one family told us their child enjoyed learning songs and rhymes, and so from this we tailored her programme to teach phonics through musically based activities.


A key element of the approach was close parent partnership, and we communicated carefully with families to explain what we were doing and why, and shared resources for use at home to help support the work being done in school.


After eight weeks, one child passed the phonics test, and had caught up sufficiently to be taught with the rest of the class. Two more just missed the threshold, but again could return to main class teaching. The remaining four children were on the cusp, with intensive work then planned to help them meet the threshold. Notably none of the children are now likely to need SEND or external agency support in the future.


There were other benefits too with, perhaps more importantly, all children involved showing a boost in their confidence inside and outside of the classroom. It also gave me the opportunity to spend quality teaching time with some of our youngest children, and put some of my knowledge of neurodiversity and kinaesthetic teaching into practice.


So where do we go from here? With these early successes we will now be adopting the same approach as part of our wider catch-up plan for KS1. Next year we will put in place a team of three additional staff to continue focused sessions with identified children. We also plan to share the details of these interventions with our Early Years and KS1 colleagues across the Trust, so that our work can enjoy a wider reach and hopefully help more children.


We are very proud of this focused piece of work and look forward to seeing this approach enjoy continued success both at Rustington and hopefully with our Trust colleagues in other schools too.


Marie Smailes

Head of School, Rustington Community Primary School