What's the Best Reading Scheme for My School?


We know that a new reading scheme is a significant investment for any school, and teachers will want to ensure the books they buy are just right for the school's needs over the next few years.

Key educational publishers such as Collins, Oxford and Pearson offer a range of reading schemes from professional literacy experts, authors and editors, but which is right for your school? The Department of Education has recently updated its guidance, especially in relation to phonics, so you’ll also want to take a look at The Reading Framework (published July 2021) when updating your resources.

We hope these frequently asked questions will be a help to you in choosing your school's reading resources, but if you need more help, do give our friendly customer service team a call on 01553 816082. As we offer schemes from all leading educational publishers, we are in a great position to find the best fit for your school's needs. Also, if you purchase your books from Badger Learning they will be supplied fitted with FREE protective jackets to ensure they can withstand plenty of trips in a school book bag!


A Reading Scheme is a series of precisely levelled and skilfully written books that supports reading development. Key educational publishers such as Collins, Oxford and Pearson offer a range of reading schemes from professional literacy experts, authors and editors.


Choosing a reading scheme is a process that is unique to every school, and each will have its own reasons for purchasing a particular scheme. In many schools the schemes used might even differ between year groups. For example, Reception and Year 1 classes are likely to be using a rigorous phonically decodable systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) reading scheme to match their learning across the phases outlined in their teaching sequence. However, Year 2 might follow book bands and a scheme with a variety of genres to practice their phonics, build confidence and enrich comprehension. Many schools will add to their phonics provision by sending home books for parents and carers to read with their child/ren. It is important that these books are closely matched to pupils' developing phonics knowledge and knowledge of common exception words. It's also good practice for schools to provide guidance to parents explaining how they can support their child at home. Home reading diaries with specific instructions and positive comments are a good example of this. In addition to reading with decodable books, it is vital that children experience a wide range of other quality children's books that are either read to or with them, to build vocabulary, comprehension, and the enjoyment of reading. The Reading Framework (July 2021) requires schools to have a rigorous and effective teaching programme in place for systematic synthetic phonics and this process should have been completed by Spring 2022. This can be the school’s own programme or a commercially available validated SSP. You can view the list of validated SSP programmes here





Big Cat for Little Wandle Letters and Sounds Revised SSP (Collins)

Bug Club Phonics (Pearson)

Essential Letters and Sounds

Floppy’s Phonics Teaching Programme (OUP)

GES Simply Letters & Sounds

Jolly Phonics Readers

Junior Learning Letters & Sounds

Lesley Clarke's Letters & Sounds


McKie Mastery Power Phonics

Monster Phonics

No Nonsense Phonics

Phonics International

Phonics Shed

Read Write Inc Phonics (OUP)

Rocket Phonics SSP (Rising Stars’ Reading Planet)

Schofield & Sims My Letters & Sounds

Smart Kids Letters & Sounds — The Code

Song of Sounds

Sound Discovery

Sounds Together


Success for All Phonics

Supersonic Phonic Friends

THE Partnership Phonics Programme

Twinkl Phonics

Unlocking Letters and Sounds

Wand Phonics with Phonics International

Big Cat Phonics for Letters and Sounds (Collins)

Big Cat Phonics for Letters and Sounds 7+ (Collins Intervention)

Dandelion Readers

Decode & Develop with Biff, Chip and Kipper (OUP)

Explore with Biff, Chip and Kipper (OUP)

Floppy’s Phonics Fiction (OUP)

Little Blending (OUP)

Project X Alien Adventures

Project X Phonics (OUP) – small scheme

Project X Hero Academy (OUP)

Project X CODE (OUP Intervention)

Ransom Reading Stars Phonics: Phases 1–5

Red Squirrel Phonics

Moon Dog, Magic Belt, Island Adventure and Totem (PhonicBooks Intervention)

Songbirds (OUP)

Traditional Tales (OUP)

Word Sparks (OUP)

Big Cat (Collins)

Bug Club Independent (Pearson)

Engage Literacy (Raintree)

Maverick Readers (Pink-White)

Oxford Reading Tree — Biff, Chip and Kipper (OUP)

Oxford’s — Story SparksAll StarsinFact, Fireflies and Glow-Worms

Project X Origins (OUP)

Ransom Reading Stars (Ransom)

Rigby Star Family —  Guided / Independent

Rising Stars’ Reading Planet: Comet Street

Rising Stars’ Reading Planet: Galaxy



Department for Education Guidance specifies that schools needed to be using a systematic synthetic phonics teaching programme by Spring 2022. The books will need to follow the teaching sequence exactly so that children only encounter sounds that they have already learnt and are not expected to guess the word from other clues such as context, initial sound or pictures. Banded books should ideally then be used once children have either completed their phonic learning or as additional practice for reading depth and comprehension when reading with an adult. They can be labelled separately and potentially stickered, e.g. Please read this book to me. Phonics books need to follow the same progression as the teaching sequence (which may or may not be based on Letters and Sounds) and historically a book bands approach has not been compatible with this sequential teaching of phonics.  However, many authors and publishers are using a best-fit approach to matching the phases of Letters and Sounds with book bands, therefore making it easier for schools who are using the book band system.



See the chart above.

Fully decodable texts are perfect for practice and consolidation of the phonic code and ideal for topping up existing stock and providing wider reading. 



Although schools are free to choose or create their own phonics teaching programme, in April 2021 the Department for Education’s experts launched a process to validate systematic synthetic phonics teaching programmes (SSPs). You can consult the list of validated SSP programmes here.

If you are updating your school’s resources or creating your own SSP programme you will want to ensure you are following the current guidance when making your choices. The Reading Framework (DfE July 2021) outlines guidance for choosing a phonics teaching programme and has several useful audit documents. Your local English Hub should also be able to support you. Funding is available for schools that meet the criteria outlined, who need to invest in new books and programmes for the teaching of phonics. See here for more information on funding. 

Leading schemes with validated SSP programmes include Pearson's Bug Club Phonics, Big Cat for Little Wandle Letters and Sounds Revised, Essential Letters and Sounds, Read Write Inc, Rocket Phonics, Unlocking Letters and Sounds and Floppy's Phonics Sounds and Letters. These teaching programmes offer a teaching sequence with reading books and additional resources such as flashcards and sound mats that are exactly matched to the progression in the teaching sequence. Most also offer online resources and teacher training. View phonics schemes here including a number of free online trials.



Many schools buy into several different reading schemes to give breadth and choice to the children — particularly for the home/ school (book bag book) reading programme. Often schools choose to have one favoured scheme for Early Years/KS1 Guided Reading and this is the current advice for teaching phonics with phonically decodable books and resources in Reception and Year 1. Parents can be encouraged to read a separate book to children to promote vocabulary development, book talk, comprehension and reading for pleasure as long as it is clear which book is to be read by the child and which by the adult to the child. From Year 2, it is possible to use a reading scheme from one publisher and bolt on to this, for example, by using Oxford levels and selecting across the many new series — all linked by the common progression system that is unique to Oxford Reading Tree and TreeTops. To mix and match publishers such as Pearson and OUP, book bands can be used as common progression levels. Book bands were deliberately established to enable schools to offer a range of different reading scheme books based on the criteria outlined in the publication Book Bands for Guided Reading (Bickler et al, Institute of Education). This can add variety to children's reading and can be a great way to refresh your reading scheme stock with a newer series from a different publisher while still keeping the value in your existing offering. You may also want to add diversity in a particular area, such as non-fiction or phonics for Key Stage 1. Badger Learning offer a range of Mixed Scheme boxes that have been levelled by book band or phase to ensure a systematic progression is in place.



Book bands derive from levels initially presented by the UK Reading Recovery National Network but publishers have extended these levels to provide schools with a structure across the entire primary school reading journey. Starting with wordless books at Lilac level, colours progress through 17 stages from Reception to Year 6. Some schools stop at Lime and pupils choose 'real' books from this point on. Others continue with a reading scheme book and a library book of free choice. If the 'real' books are also banded then this helps to guide book choices for pupils who are 'free readers' i.e. not continuing with a reading scheme after a given point. Our team of experts read and level every single book in Badger Learning’s carefully selected collections of Banded 'Real' Books to ensure they are of the highest quality, provide the right level of challenge, have age-appropriate content and that every collection is inclusive and diverse and has an engaging mix of genres and subject matter.

Typically progression looks like this*:

Reception: Lilac
Level 0
Pink A / Pink B
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Year 1: Blue
Level 4
Level 5
Level 6
Year 2: Turquoise
Level 7
Level 8
Level 9
Level 10
Level 11
Year 3: Lime (Emerging)
Level 11
Brown (Expected Level)
Level 12
Grey (Exceeding)
Level 13
Year 4: Brown (Emerging)
Level 12
Grey (Expected Level)
Level 13
Dark Blue (Exceeding)
Level 14
Year 5: Grey (Emerging)
Level 13
Dark Blue (Expected Level)
Level 14
Dark Red (Exceeding)
Level 15
Year 6: Dark Blue (Emerging)
Level 14
Dark Red (Expected Level)
Level 15
Black / Black+ (Exceeding/Gifted)
Level 16

*all readers will progress at different speeds and may have spurts at varying times



Lilac books can be found in Pearson's Bug Club, Collins' Big Cat, Rising Stars' Reading Planet Lift-off and Oxford's; Explore with Biff, Chip and Kipper, Word Sparks, Story Sparks, Traditional Tales, inFact, Decode & Develop, Project X: Hero Academy and Floppy's Phonics.



KS2 book bands most frequently use the colours: Brown, Grey, Dark Blue, Dark Red and Dark Red Plus (sometimes referred to as Black), but other systems are out there including the popular Big Cat series that uses Copper, Topaz, Emerald, Ruby, Sapphire, Diamond and Pearl (which can be matched best-fit to the popular book band colours.)

Oxford offers the TreeTops series — namely Project X (Origins or Alien Adventures), TreeTops' inFact (Non-Fiction), Reflect, Greatest Stories, Chucklers, Myths & Legends and Graphic Novels.

Raintree's Engage Literacy — book band colours up to Dark Red.

Collins' Big Cat — colours outlined above with Pearl being for the most able readers.

Pearson's Bug Club Independent — book band colours up to Dark Red+.

There are also a range of schemes catering to Key Stage 2 struggling readers, see “WHICH IS THE BEST READING SCHEME FOR KS2 STRUGGLING READERS?” below for information.

Publisher Range Brown Grey Dark Blue Dark Red Black (Dark Red+)
Oxford TreeTops Project X Project X Project X Project X Project X
Oxford TreeTops Chucklers Chucklers Chucklers Chucklers Chucklers
Oxford TreeTops Greatest Stories Greatest Stories Greatest Stories Greatest Stories Greatest Stories
Oxford TreeTops TreeTops inFact TreeTops inFact TreeTops inFact TreeTops inFact Treetops inFact
Oxford TreeTops Reflect Reflect Reflect Reflect Reflect
Oxford TreeTops Myths and Legends Myths and Legends Myths and Legends Myths and Legends  
Oxford TreeTops   Graphic Texts Graphic Texts Graphic Texts Graphic Texts
Raintree Engage Literacy Engage Literacy Engage Literacy Engage Literacy Engage Literacy  
Collins Big Cat Copper (Brown) Topaz (Brown/Grey) Ruby (Grey) Emerald (Grey/Dark Blue) Sapphire Diamond Pearl (Red/Black)
Pearson Bug Club Bug Club Independent Bug Club Independent Bug Club Independent Bug Club Independent Bug Club Independent
Rising Stars Reading Planet Mercury & Venus Earth & Mars Jupiter & Saturn Saturn Supernova



Oxford's Treetops Chucklers have high appeal for readers who love humour and TreeTops inFact is fascinating for those who love fact-finding. Many teachers feel that the Project X series' (Origins and Hero Academy) have more potential to captivate boys. The graphics are CGI and the character-led adventures are akin to popular TV adventures — like Transformers. Pearson's Bug Club Independent mixes lots of comics, TV and cartoon characters (including Dr Who) and engaging formats.



Many schools find that there are some children with phonic gaps still in their reading in Year 2 & KS2. These reading schemes offer extra phonic help for struggling readers.

Year 2 and Lower Key Stage 2 (LKS2)

Upper Key Stage 2 (UKS2)

Project X Code & Code Extra

Big Cat Phonic Progress

Big Cat Phonics for Letters and Sounds 7+

Little Wandle Letters and Sounds 7+ 

Dandelion (revisits Phonics)

Big Cat Phonic Progress

Ransom Reading Stars Plus

Dandelion (practices Phonics)

PhonicBooks’ Moon Dog, Magic Belt, Totem, Talisman and Island Adventure Series


What can Badger Learning offer?

"We are delighted that the Badger Learning Scheme Shop is fast becoming teachers' favourite place to quickly and confidently source quality reading books for a varied, progressive and vibrant whole-school reading programme. The ultimate Badger Learning aim is to help create an inspiring reading environment whereby young readers are challenged, encouraged and happy to read their latest book. These books will not languish in an unopened book bag, we promise you that! They won't crinkle either as our staff Mary and Tracy will have fitted every book with a protective jacket to make sure your investment lasts." Kerry (Book Collections Manager)

Are you looking for something new?

Update your phonics resources with time-saving, DfE-validated Phonics SSP teaching programmes from Big Cat for Little Wandle, Rocket Phonics, Pearson's Bug Club Phonics, Unlocking Letters and Sounds and Read Write Inc. or check out our versatile Mixed Scheme collections, ideal whether you want to refresh existing scheme stocks or start afresh. They are filled with potential for promoting language development, vocabulary building and establishing a love of reading for pleasure by encouraging parental engagement in sharing stories with children.

As more schools are asking for Key Stage 2 schemes, we have extended our range to include Mixed Oxford collections for Key Stage 2, banded from Brown to Dark Red+, which provide a superb mix from series such as Greatest Stories, TreeTops inFact, Chucklers and Project X. We're really pleased to include Reflect, Oxford's emotionally powerful stories that make children think. Rising Stars Reading Planet for Key Stage 2 also features a wide range of vivid and exciting fact and fiction books.

Finally, for schools looking to top up reading scheme stock with books to support the Accelerated Reader™ programme, we supply ready-made AR levelled sets of mixed reading scheme books. This includes AR Intervention collections for older, struggling readers.



Bug Club Phonics Bug Club Independent Explore with Biff, Chip and Kipper Collins Big Cat
Engage Literacy Ransom Reading Stars Reading Planet  
Project X Origins Hero Academy All Stars Story Sparks
inFact Chucklers Greatest Stories Reflect