Phonics and reading at St. Mary’s

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At St. Mary’s we support children to develop their early reading skills in many different ways. Children are flooded with a rich literacy curriculum from when they start in Reception. This is delivered through daily phonics lessons, daily whole-class reads, our reading rocket scheme, weekly guided reading sessions and encouraged reading at home.

As a school we value the importance of reading for our children. We realise the importance of reading for children’s academic success and future careers. Due to our understanding of the impact reading has on children’s success it is a core driver throughout our school and we are part of a initiative to promote reading for pleasure across Birmingham. We have developed a ‘St. Mary’s year of reading’ to promote reading for pleasure and increase reading for our children and staff. This has been a very exciting time for the school and we have seen an encouraging change in the children’s attitudes to reading.

We have used practitioner knowledge alongside high quality phonics programmes to develop our own phonics programme. This programme allows us as a school to use the same language and resources throughout school to enable familiarity and consistency for our learners. The St. Mary’s phonics programme has: set 0, set 1, set 2, set 3, set 3+, set 4 and set 5. The expectation is that children will move through these sets and finish the programme by the end of year 2.  For those that don’t, we have KS2 catch up programmes in place to catch pupils up.

Our phonics programme teaches children to read and write individual sounds, to orally blend sounds together, to put sounds together to read words (green words- these can be phonetically decoded), to read red words (these are words that cannot be decoded and have to be learnt by sight), to segment the sounds in words to write words (using fred fingers), to read sentences, to write sentences, to find sounds in reading books, to choose the correct spelling when there are alternatives, to be able to read and write common exception words and to make the correct grammatical choices.


Once children are settled in Reception (usually October half term) we complete a phonics baseline. Children are then split into attainment groups- this enables us to provide children with phonics teaching at the appropriate level. All children (even those who know some sounds) will learn to read and write the individual sounds that make up set 1, this is to ensure correct pronunciation and also letter formation. Assessment is ongoing and children move groups throughout the year dependent on their progress.

In Reception we have daily phonics lessons which follow a familiar routine – introducing a new sound, rehearsing previously taught sounds, writing the ‘new sound’, practising blending and segmenting at the appropriate level (this may be through games, oral blending/ segmenting or written blending/ segmenting).

As well as our dedicated phonics lesson children in Reception are encouraged to practise their early literacy skills throughout their day at school. We encourage this through physical play and fine motor development, through story telling time, through music and listening sessions, through shared reading and lots of other activities.

Year 1

When children start in year 1 they are grouped based on information passed on from the Reception team, this is to ensure a prompt start with phonics lessons. Once children are settled into year 1 they are assessed and split into the relevant groups to enable the best teaching for their phonic ability. Children then carry on following the St. Mary’s phonics scheme- usually the Autumn term is spent re-capping some learning from Reception to ensure strong foundations for literacy and to make sure there are no gaps in children’s learning.

In year 1 children participate in four phonics lessons each week. They follow a similar routine to the lessons delivered in Reception, however the expectation is that the children have moved onto applying what they have learnt in Reception, to read polysyllabic words, to write more difficult words and sentences and to choose the correct spelling for sounds (Grapheme-phoneme correspondence -e.g. tree, tea). The year 1 phonics test is carried out in the summer term.

Year 2

As the children move into Year 2, we expect the children to have completed the work on their (St Mary’s) set 3, 3+ and set 4 sounds and so they should be ready to move onto set 5 which is the Statutory National Curriculum requirement for year 2. However, we are realistic in our approach and recognise that although children’s phonetical knowledge is good in reading and has enabled them to pass the phonics screening test, often children need to recap on the set 3, 3+ and set 4 for spelling where by children are aware of the alternative grapheme phoneme correspondence (GPC). Therefore, the children are placed into different set groups to enable them to recap, rehearse, learn, practise and apply the sounds and spelling rules relevant to their stage in development. The pace of learning is quick so that the children access to the Year 2 spelling and grammar work as soon as possible.

All children are exposed to the Year 2 common exception words through the teaching of English. These words are on display and there is an expectation that the children spell these words correctly in their writing. In addition to their weekly spelling patterns, the children are given two words from the common exception list to learn how to spell. The children have a weekly spelling test and are tested every half term on the common exception words.

As children move into Key Stage 2, children are taught a spelling pattern each week that corresponds to the National Curriculum and teachers match this where possible to the grammar work that they are covering for the week. The common exception words are on display and the expectation for spelling these correctly is the same as in years 1 and 2. Children who need further support with their phonics have targeted support through interventions, precision teaching, words mats and electronic dictionaries to enable them to access the curriculum.


To support children’s phonological awareness we have arranged our guided reading books based on the order the sounds are taught in. These guided reading books are from a range of reading schemes and therefore provide a range of texts. Initially these books have no words to encourage children to have the confidence to ‘read’ themselves as well as building their inference skills.  Children will have the opportunity to read this book with an adult at school, it is also sent home to read with families and a reading record sits alongside to provide communication between home and school. To support confidence and fluency when reading we provide the children in Reception and year 1 with ‘reading rockets’.