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A whole-school approach to phonics

Case Study
  • Authored by: Margaret McMullin
  • Status: Approved


What were your reasons for doing this type of development work?

The school had recognised the need for a whole school approach to phonic teaching in the light of tracking, the use of Letters and Sounds and the expectations of attainment in Key Stage 1. The school had been part of the Communication, Language and Literacy Development (CLLD) pilot programme and had identified that whilst most Key Stage 1 pupils were working within age related expectations it highlighted the need for a number of Key Stage 2 pupils to catch up. They realised that this would be a time limited exercise which would provide an opportunity for peer led continuing professional development (CPD) and for the school to become a professional learning community.

Who might find this case study useful?

  • Headteacher
  • National Strategies consultant
  • Senior leadership team (SLT)
  • Teacher

Key points

Point 1

Using phonics to enable older pupils to succeed with reading and to start to work within age related expectations

Point 2

To provided a structured opportunity for whole school CPD designed and led by other staff members


What specific curriculum area, subject or aspect did you intend to have impact on?

  • English - reading
  • English - speaking and listening
  • English - writing

How did you intend to impact on pupil learning?

By enabling pupils who had fallen behind with reading and writing skills to make accelerated progress and start to work within age related expectations.

What were your success criteria?

  • Pupils begin to use strategies for decoding and encoding fluently, confidently and independently.
  • To raise pupil self esteem and motivation.
  • Pupils to apply these skills independently across the curriculum.

PLEASE NOTE this page has three tabs - click 'Next tab' below or use tabs above to see Teaching approaches and CPD approaches

What information or data did you use to measure progress towards your success criteria?

  • Data comparison of cohorts
  • Observation outcomes
  • Periodic teacher assessment
  • Pupils' work

What did you do? What teaching approaches (pedagogy) did you use to achieve the intended impact?

  • Assessment for Learning (AfL)
  • Collaborative group work
  • Independent learning
  • Other
  • Self assessment and peer assessment
  • Use of pupil talk for whole-class teaching

Describe the teaching approaches you used

Children in Year 5 & Year 6 were base lined against the phonic phases, then set according to phase.
There were a substantial number of pupils working within Phase 3.

After training on CLLD and Letters & Sounds, colleagues adapted the materials/resources to meet the needs of the older children.

It was decided that the pupils working at Phase 3 would require a more kinaesthetic approach. Most of their lessons have a strong oral content and are made as interactive as possible. There are a lot of overlearning opportunities built into this approach.

Assessment for learning and formative assessment strategies are ongoing on a daily basis.

What did you do? What approaches to CPD and learning for adults were used?

  • Coaching
  • Demonstration
  • Lesson observation
  • Modelling
  • Training
  • Work scrutiny

Describe the CPD approaches you used

Key colleagues delivered INSET on Letters & Sounds and Progression through the phases, to all teachers and teaching assistants.

Mentoring & coaching models included support for planning & in class support for the teaching of phonics.

Lesson observations were a two way process and feedback proved invaluable. A great deal of professional dialogue occurred around the teaching of phonics.

What CPD materials, research or expertise have you drawn on?

CLLD & Literacy Consultants

Letters and Sounds:

  • Key Colleagues attended the CLLD Launch Conference
  • Coaching models
  • Sharing resources produced by colleagues
  • Purchase of additional resources

Related National Strategies resources:

Who provided you with support?

  • Other
  • Senior management

How were you supported?


  • LA Consultants - Literacy and CLLD provide expert support when required. FS colleague had attended CLLD training.
  • LA funding for the project was provided and used to allow time for colleagues to work together.


What has been the overall impact on pupil learning?

  • Self confidence raised
  • Children motivated
  • Impact on resilience
  • Longer attention span
  • Completion of tasks

Thoughts you think are relevant to overall impact on learning

It is important to provide children with the skills to access the broader curriculum. Adapting Letters & Sounds enabled us to do this. Staff CPD was important as the approaches used were new to KS2 colleagues. Although we provided training in house, we are still learning from this. The knowledge gap was bridged and gave colleagues an overview of the progression in phonic development. Joint collaboration is essential and we are now working together with enhanced cohesion & sharper focus.

Quotes you think are relevant to overall impact on learning

  • I now know what I have to focus on to move pupils on in phonics.
  • I really enjoyed sharing practice with year group colleagues.

Quantitative evidence of impact on pupil learning

  • Data comparison of cohorts
  • Periodic teacher assessment

Qualitative evidence of impact on pupil learning

  • Observation outcomes
  • Pupils' work

Describe the evidence of impact on pupil learning

  • Lesson observations indicate that pupil involvement in their learning has been enhanced. Motivation and sustained focus on learning has improved.The impact on their writing has been noted in all subjects where writing takes place.
  • Pupils are keen to participate and have ownership of their learning.  "It’s fun to learn our sounds."  "Can we do those writing games again?"
  • Tracking through the phases of Letters & Sounds indicates progress, too.


What has been the impact on teaching?

  • Clear observation criteria helped to clarify the focus for pupil learning.
  • Awareness of the learning process.
  • Better use of assessment for learning.
  • Impact of professional dialogue and observation on teaching and ultimately learning.

Thoughts you think are relevant to impact on teaching

As a result of staff CPD, there is a stronger focus on progression through the phonic phases. Staff knowledge has been enhanced and there is a more common approach to the teaching of phonics & reading.

Quotes you think are relevant to the impact on teaching


  • I never thought I would see the purpose of phonics in KS2.
  • Although it took some time to get my head round it, the impact on pupils’ progress has been worth it.
  • I can see the improvement in all their writing.

Evidence of impact on teaching

  • Evidence from observation and monitoring
  • Evidence from planning
  • Teacher perceptions

Describe the evidence of impact on teaching

Close collaboration on planning for the teaching of phonics worked well. Peer coaching through modelling & observation & team teaching improved teaching confidence. Key colleagues felt that support had been valued. Differentiation is stronger and evident on plans. Dialogue linked to VAK (Visual Auditory Kinesthetic) and how phonic activities could be adapted to pupil need, enabled us to try out different teaching approaches. Teaching became more enjoyable, as a result.


What has been the impact on school organisation and leadership?

We have realised how important it is to build in time for key colleagues to work with other teachers & teaching assistants.

Thoughts you think are relevant to overall impact on school organisation and leadership

Strong leadership and the backing of the SLT is crucial to any project related to improvement.

Quotes you think are relevant to overall impact on school organisation and leadership

The collaborative nature of the approach, the time to work with others, has had a beneficial impact on us all.

Evidence of impact on school organisation and leadership

  • Timetable of opportunities for staff CPD & follow up support by key personnel.
  • Observations of Teaching & Learning.


What is the crucial thing that made the difference?

  • The opportunity for the whole school to have one clear area for development.
  • The opportunity to work collaboratively and the time to do so.

What key resources would people who want to learn from your experience need access to?

  • Letters & Sounds & other phonic resources.
  • Key colleagues who will take a lead on the project.

What CPD session and resources were particularly useful?

If another individual or school was attempting to replicate this work, where would they start and what would the essential elements be?

  • Start with training of all staff, as they will need thorough knowledge of the progression through the phonic phases.
  • Base line pupils and make sure they are in the correct phase.
  • Have professional dialogue about adapting strategies & resources for older pupils.

What further developments are you planning to do (or would you like to see others do)?

  • Building up the bank of IWB & other resources linked to phonic phases.
  • Continue to monitor & evaluate the progress of pupils and provide support for colleagues as requested.

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