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Bitham Brook Primary School

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In order to read fluently, children need to decode words and understand their meaning. However, the journey towards becoming a fluent reader starts with decoding. Therefore, from the beginning of Reception, children start to learn the sounds (phonemes - the most basic sounds used in the English language) that correspond to written letters. This is a complex task as there are over 44 sounds used in the English language, but only 26 letters in the alphabet to represent them. Each of the 44 sounds (phonemes) are represented by one or more letters. In their phonics lessons, children are taught to hear, recognise and articulate these sounds. Further to this, they are taught which letters correspond to each sound so that they can break down unfamiliar words into its graphemes (a grapheme is the letter or letters that represent a sound) to ‘sound the word out’ (segmenting) before blending the sounds back together to read the word. 

Children will systematically learn sounds (phonemes) and their graphemes throughout Reception and Year 1 accumulating the full bank of phonetic knowledge needed to decode most unfamiliar words. The order in which phonetic knowledge is built is set out in the school’s sequence of learning for early reading.  The sequence of learning is tightly followed but there are some common exception words taught which may not fit the pattern. These common exceptions words are high frequency words and are needed for children to make sense of what they are reading. They are exceptions because either they are introduced prior to their phonemes being taught or the words contain unusual phonemes which do not frequently appear in the English language.  

To securely acquire the phonetic knowledge described above, children will practice decoding skills, repeating them regularly, so that they become automated and children recognise the graphemes by sight, instantly knowing the sounds (phonemes) that the grapheme (the letters) represent. 
To support this automation of sight reading, children will only be given reading books that are fully decodable i.e. the book matches the sounds / phonemes that children have been taught. This is nationally recognised best practice. 

Some children will need more practice than others and this is provided through additional teaching input called ‘keep up’ sessions. A small number of children may find learning the phonetic sounds and corresponding graphemes particularly difficult. These children will be given additional teaching support focused on the child’s next steps in the school’s sequence of learning. 
Our aim is that children become fluent at decoding and are able to read many words at a glance by the end of KS1. Therefore, decoding forms the core of the reading curriculum for children in Reception and Year 1 and decoding fluency is further developed in Year 2. 

Once this decoding fluency has been achieved, the emphasis moves to language comprehension. Language comprehension is the way in which we make sense of words and sentences that we read and the meaning we give to them. If a child can assign the right meaning to words, phrases and sentences, they are then able to understand what they are reading. This is a pivotal stage where children move from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn’. This shift in curriculum emphasis onto ‘reading to learn’ and language comprehension takes place from Year 2 onwards and for most children is fully in place by Year 3. 

However, it is worth noting that the impact of the pandemic means that some children will need longer to secure their decoding skills before making this curriculum transition. If this is the case, KS2 reading lessons will continue to primarily focus on securing decoding skills for children who need this foundational knowledge. In practise this means, for the first part of the reading lesson, all children will study comprehension concepts and skills. However, for the children who need it, they will then focus on the next steps in their phonetic knowledge whilst other children consolidate the teaching of comprehension knowledge. 


The school uses the 'Unlocking Letters and Sounds' as the basis for its phonics programme. 

With regard to comprehension teaching, this focuses on the following areas of knowledge: predicting (e.g. what will happen in a story, how a character will act next), inferring (using implied information given by the author to understand the meaning of the text), vocabulary (understanding the meaning of words) and summarising the text. Children will also be taught skills in retrieving information from texts and using evidence from the text to explain meaning.