2021 DFE Changes to Phonics Teaching
This year, the Department for Education has brought in some changes that will impact the teaching of phonics in many schools, as well as the phonic books and resources that will be needed to support it. Our reading scheme specialists have put together some FAQs to help schools ensure their teaching programme is up-to-date with current Ofsted guidance and has the right reading books and resources in place.
The 2007 Letters and Sounds Framework set out to provide schools with a basis for teaching systematic synthetic phonics (SSP). Although this has never been statutory, over 50% of schools use this as the basis of their phonics teaching and it was included on the list of approved phonics programmes on gov.uk. However, it is not, and has never been a full programme setting out in detail how phonics will be taught on a week-by-week basis. It relied upon schools building their own programme of resources around the handbook and in many cases updating the progression to bring it in line with current best practice.
Although some schools have created their own teaching programme based on 2007 Letters and Sounds very successfully, this is not the case for all schools. Moreover, it is no longer sufficient to simply state to Ofsted that your school is following Letters and Sounds — you will need to show you are using a successful approach including a teaching programme, relevant resources, reading books and high-quality staff training that builds on this or another Systematic Synthetic Phonics teaching programme (SSP). Ofsted specify that the approach must be rigorous, systematic, used with fidelity (any resources used should exactly match the Grapheme Phoneme Correspondence (GPC) progression of their chosen SSP approach), and achieve strong results for all pupils, including the most disadvantaged. There is emphasis on children being able to keep up rather than catch up so that children at risk of reading failure are given the opportunity for extra practice and support from the beginning.
The only exception is where schools are receiving support from one of the DfE’s English Hubs. In this instance, schools must follow an SSP programme from the DfE’s validated list.
Most commercial publishers of reading schemes have, or are in the process of, updating their reading scheme resources to ensure they are in line with the new guidance. In many cases they have created a full SSP teaching programme that consists of a teaching sequence, teacher training, classroom resources and reading books for home and school. These SSPs have been (or will be) submitted to the DfE for validation to ensure they meet the rigorous standards set. A list of programmes that have been validated so far is available here. This list will be updated up until February 2022. Schools and groups of schools can also submit their own SSPs to be validated if they wish to share their best practice.
- Is Letters and Sounds ‘fit for purpose’?
- Can we continue to use 2007 Letters and Sounds?
- Do we need to buy all new phonics books?
- Is there any funding available to support schools to buy a validated SSP programme?
- Our school has created a phonics programme based on 2007 Letters and Sounds. Do we need to get it validated?
- Which SSP Teaching Programme should my school use?
- Which books are part of a DfE validated SSP programme?
- When do we have to have a validated SSP programme (or successful alternative) in place in school?
- How do we audit our phonics provision in school?
- What is the government’s reading framework?
- Is Big Cat Phonics for Letters and Sounds a validated SSP programme?
- Is Bug Club Phonics a validated SSP programme?
- We use Rising Stars’ Rocket Phonics — are these validated?
- How do I check if our resources can still be used as part of an SSP programme?
- Can schools receiving support from an English Hub continue using Letters and Sounds 2007?
In early 2021, the DfE said that “for many schools, especially those who need or want to improve their practice, 2007 Letters and Sounds is not fit for purpose and does not provide the support, guidance, resources or training needed.” In other words, Letters and Sounds in its current original form is deemed not to be a full SSP programme. On 1st April 2021, the Department launched a process to validate SSP programmes with a comprehensive and updated list of criteria, in order to create a new list of providers. This is available here. The DfE is aware that a large number of schools continue to use 2007 Letters and Sounds, so are encouraging anyone interested in creating full SSP programmes based on 2007 Letters and Sounds to submit them for validation. The first round of applications were submitted and reviewed in June 2021 and some schemes are already validated. Further schemes will be reviewed in November 2021 and February 2022. Schools wanting or needing to improve their practice in phonics teaching will then be strongly encouraged to use a full SSP programme from the resulting validated list.
Yes, this will remain on the DfE validated list until Spring 2022 to allow schools time to consider their approach and look at new approved SSP programmes on the DFE list. After Spring 2022, schools wanting or needing to improve their practice will be strongly encouraged to use a programme from the validated list although this will not be mandatory and schools can use their own programme as long as it is rigorous, systematic, used with fidelity and achieves strong results for all pupils, including the most disadvantaged. Many commercial SSP programmes are based on Letters and Sounds and will simply provide the additional materials and training to support updated best practice teaching in school.
Not necessarily. Phonics books must be fully decodable and match progression exactly to pupils’ phonic knowledge. This is required by Ofsted and the teaching sequence should show a cumulative progression in knowledge that is matched to the books children read, so that they are not expected to use other strategies to work out what unfamiliar words are. Commercial publishers have (or are in the process of having) submitted complete SSP programmes with decodable books matched to the progression of teaching. If your school is already using resources from a publisher with an SSP programme you may be able to continue using these or top up where there have been changes in phase progression. Where mapping documents are available you can find these here.
We anticipate that SSP programmes based on Letters and Sounds from commercial publishers will enable schools to continue using the majority of their existing books and that the validated programmes should provide advice on which books will continue to support these programmes.
If a school is adopting a new SSP programme, they will need to ensure that the resources match the progression exactly across decodable books, write-in books and flashcards.
Books that are not fully-decodable (typically 90–95%) cannot form part of the main SSP programme. However, they can be used for additional practice or for shared reading books — to be read with the support of an adult — to encourage reading for pleasure.
Yes. The government announced £5 million of extra funding for eligible schools to purchase validated SSP programmes which will be allocated by the 15 English Hubs. This is designed to support schools in providing great reading provision to develop both pupils’ reading proficiency and enjoyment. Schools must have at least 25% of their pupils eligible for pupil premium and be in an eligible local authority area. Find out more here.
Our school has created a phonics programme based on 2007 Letters and Sounds. Do we need to get it validated?
Schools can continue with their approach even if it is not validated. If your school uses its own approach based around Letters and Sounds 2007 which includes appropriate resources, has decodable books matched to pupils’ phonic knowledge, high-quality staff training and achieves strong results, there is no need to change approach. Schools should ensure that the approach taken is rigorous, systematic and works for all children, including the most disadvantaged.
Though there is no obligation to bring a programme for validation, the DfE does encourage applications from schools wishing to share their good practice more widely.
It is for individual schools to decide which approach to phonics teaching they use, although the Department recommends schools consider an SSP programme from the validated list, as these programmes will have met robust criteria and will have been tested and assessed to be of high-quality. See the validated list here. Phonics collections can be purchased here.
Click here to view resources.
The dates for validation by the DfE are:
Click here to view which schemes are currently validated.
You may wish to review the criteria set out by the DfE for publishers in order to do an audit of your own phonics provision to ensure it is reflecting current best practice. Herts for Learning suggest schools will need to "provide a full resource of teaching materials, resources, texts and training".
The government has outlined sixteen criteria for publishers who wish to tender applications over the next few months. Anything they produce will have to satisfy these conditions. You may find it useful to study these, as well as the related footnotes, in order to perform an audit of your own phonics provision in school. How far does it align with these criteria? Where might you need to shore things up? If your phonics outcomes are not as you hoped, how far do you analyse your own systems and teaching? When (if at all) did staff delivering phonics teaching last have official training?
It's also a good idea to speak to your local English Hub, as they can offer guidance on the details of each validated scheme to help with your decision.
A new framework was published in July 2021 which sets out the latest thinking on reading, read the full framework here.
No, but these books can be used as part of a Letters and Sounds SSP programme. Big Cat Phonics for Little Wandle Phonics for Letters and Sounds Revised is a fully validated SSP programme using 120 Big Cat Phonic for Letters and Sounds books with a range of additional resources, training, and online support. For schools that are looking for an SSP programme and have been happy using Big Cat Phonics for Letters and Sounds, Little Wandle could be a good option, allowing schools to adopt a full SSP programme and still utilise a significant proportion of their existing resources. Big Cat have produced a mapping document to support schools in matching existing resources to the progression and identify any gaps. See this here.
Yes, Bug Club Phonics is a validated SSP programme. To view reading resources including the Bug Club Phonics Extra titles that bring the resources up to date, click here.
Yes. Rocket Phonics have created a complete systematic synthetic phonics teaching programme that includes all the planning and resources needed. The existing 114 Rocket Phonics reading books are fully aligned with the new Rocket Phonics programme and can be introduced when all the GPCs in a colour band have been taught. We recommend using them for additional reading practice in school and home. Rocket Phonics have also added a range of additional print and online resources to create a complete teaching programme. View all Rocket Phonics resources plus a free online trial here.
See our list of validated resources here. Do remember that more schemes will be validated up until February 2022 so books from your existing phonics provision may be added at a later date.
Schools receiving support through the English Hubs programme must follow a programme from the validated list. Letters and Sounds 2007 will remain on the validated list until 2022 to allow schools using it the time to transition. These schools are advised to contact their local English Hub for more information.
Browse phonics resources here:
Letters and Sounds validated SSP programmes
These books and accompanying programmes are based on the 2007 Letters and Sounds framework and have already been validated by the DfE. They include everything a school needs to teach systematic synthetic phonics such as online teaching materials, teacher CPD, flashcards and practice books, as well as a range of reading books that are aligned with fidelity to the programme and teaching sequence.
- Big Cat Phonics for Little Wandle Letters and Sounds (Revised)
- Bug Club Phonics
- Floppy’s Phonics
- Rocket Phonics
Phonics programmes submitted for validation
These books and accompanying programmes are based on the 2007 Letters and Sounds Framework and have an SSP programme that will be submitted to the DfE for validation in the next few months. Just like validated programmes, they will include all a school needs to teach systematic synthetic phonics such as online teaching materials, teacher CPD, flashcards and practice books as well as a range of reading books that are aligned with fidelity to the programme and teaching sequence.
Letters and Sounds FULLY decodable collections
These schemes are fully decodable but do not currently form part of an SSP teaching programme:
- Big Cat Phonics for Letters and Sounds (see Little Wandle SSP programme which uses 120 of these books)
- Little Blending Books
- Project X Alien Adventures
- Project X Hero Academy
- Oxford Reading Tree: Traditional Tales
Letters and Sounds practice
These books are 90–95% decodable and can be used as additional practice and shared reading texts. They may help to build a love of reading for pleasure, improve vocabulary and knowledge of tricky words.
- Biff Chip and Kipper: Decode and Develop
- Rising Stars: Comet Street Kids
- Rising Stars: Galaxy
- Oxford Reading Tree: inFact
- Red Squirrel Phonics
- Word Sparks
SSP programmes seeking or with validation from the DfE but not aligned to Letters and Sounds.
- Read, Write Inc
- Jolly Phonics
- No Nonsense Phonic Skills
Online phonics subscriptions
Ideal to support reading practice, online phonics subscriptions are available from some leading publishers. Free trials are available so you can see what suits your school best. Engage and Bug Club both offer the very fine levelling required by Reading Recovery and PM Benchmarking.