What the DfE’s reading framework means for your school

Written by: Kathy Ewers | Published:
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The DfE’s new reading framework is being implemented this year. Kathy Ewers picks out five key elements of the guidance and looks at bringing them into the classroom


When the Department for Education published its guidance document – The Reading Framework: Teaching the foundations of literacy back in July (DfE, 2021), schools minister Nick Gibb described the focus on reading as the single most important reform in boosting children’s life chances.

He wrote: “Ensuring that children become strong readers at the very earliest stages helps to avoid the vicious circle of reading difficulty and demotivation.” (Gibb, 2021)

Now we are fully into the swing of the autumn term, schools are putting the framework’s recommendations into practice to ensure their children leave primary education as strong and competent readers.

So how does the new reading framework aim to provide children with those vital literacy skills?

At first glance the framework doesn’t appear to contain anything radically new, and much of what it covers is already embedded in many EYFS and key stage 1 settings. However, there are some key elements which focus on building confident readers which are worth a closer look.


Keep-up not catch-up

Throughout the pandemic there has been a great deal of often-heated debate about how to help pupils “catch-up” after months of disruption to their education. However, the framework shifts the attention away from “catch-up”, instead placing the emphasis on enabling children to “keep-up”. This approach is at the heart of the recommendations for supporting the lowest achieving 20 per cent of pupils in early reading and phonics.

Phonics programmes currently going through the DfE’s validation process need to demonstrate how they will enable pupils who are falling behind to keep-up with their peers.

The framework highlights the need to help children secure the important phonics knowledge which they have not yet grasped. What this means day-to-day in the classroom is spotting children whose knowledge is not quite there and taking action quickly, so they do not slip behind.


Blending

The skill of blending also comes under the spotlight in the framework. Blending is the ability to synthesise sounds into words, both orally and in reading.

While children might be able to sound out the letters C-A-T, recognising each letter shape and linking it to a sound (phoneme), they may not always be able to then put the sounds together in order to read the word “cat”. I’m sure many teachers will have come across pupils who sound out the word correctly, for example c-a-t, and put them together to make “car” – using the first sound. Similarly, some pupils might sound out the word but use the final sound – the T – and say “ten”. Other children might miss the link completely and say another word altogether.

From my experience of supporting a wide range of schools in the teaching of phonics, blending is a skill which requires a lot of time and attention because if pupils cannot blend then they cannot use their phonic knowledge to help them read.

We need to take every opportunity to model the skill and to ensure that children who are struggling to blend are given extra support as soon as the problem is identified.

Making sure children have mastered the skill of blending will go a long way towards helping them keep up with their reading.


Poetry please

Poetry, rhyme and song are often familiar features of early years classrooms but tend to be less evident once pupils move into key stage 1 and 2, so I was interested to see that the framework suggests that teachers should identify a core set of poems for each year group.

The guidance states: “Learning poems including traditional nursery rhymes such as Hickory Dickory Dock, Little Jack Horner and Baa Baa Black Sheep can also heighten children’s awareness of the individual sounds within words through alliteration, assonance and rhyme.”

Poetry should absolutely have a prominent place throughout primary school education, rather than being parcelled up into a quick unit of work for each year group. I vividly recall my introduction to metaphors through James Reeve’s poem The Sea when I was in key stage 2, or juniors as it was in my day. That poem really stuck with me – who can forget the words “The sea is a hungry dog”?

Children should have the opportunity to read, learn and perform poems. It introduces them to the rhythm of language, exposes them to new vocabulary and helps to instil a love of reading. There are so many ways schools can integrate poetry into the wider curriculum too. A lesson on the jungle could involve poetry about animals, or a lesson on the weather could include poetry on the seasons.

Including poetry, rhythm and songs, as well as non-fiction, into story time will open up a whole new world of language.


The importance of fluency

The reading framework defines fluency as being able to read accurately at speed. But many educators, myself included, consider the prosodic features such as expression, phrasing, timing and intonation to be important indicators of reading fluency too. Fluency is much more than the ability to read quickly, it is also about rhythm and expression.

Reading slowly can become a habit if it is not addressed early on, so it is important to model what reading should sound like by reading to pupils regularly. Where a child has difficulty reading fluently, model putting words together in phrases such as “little Red Riding Hood” or “once upon a time” and asking them to do the same. When reading books containing dialogue ask: “How would she say that? Try that again and make it sound like talking.”

Of course, when a child does read slowly, word-by-word, they are less likely to grasp what they are reading about. That is why re-reading books can be particularly helpful for early readers in developing both fluency and comprehension.

The reading framework also suggests explaining the meaning of new words to children when they are reading to increase their vocabulary and accelerate their reading of words “at a glance”. The more words children can read at a glance, the sooner they see beyond the word as consisting of a series of letters to decode and can focus on what it means.


Tools for your school

The audits in the framework are well worth a look. They include story times, leadership and management, and teaching a systematic phonics programme. The audits can be found in the appendices at the end of the full document or in the relevant section of the document. They provide a really useful starting point if you are new to a role and a valuable reflection tool for others in leadership. It may be that one of the audits fits around a current area for development in your school or provides a tool to evaluate an area you have recently worked on.


Conclusion

The reading framework explores many ways in which early reading and the related language and comprehension skills can be taught in schools. Naturally, some teachers will welcome certain elements of the publication more than others, and the teaching of early reading is always a topic of healthy intellectual debate.

With a new, and hopefully more settled, academic year underway, schools will be doing all they can, not only to help children become competent readers, but to give them the life-long gift of a love of reading.

  • Kathy Ewers is an education advisor for teaching and learning at Juniper Education and an experienced teacher who has taught in both primary and special schools. Kathy is an experienced key stage 1 and 2 moderator and an accredited trainer for literacy interventions. Visit https://junipereducation.org/


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