England: The Department for Education pulls the plug on the Year 3 phonics screening check after the pilot in 300 schools
3rd February 2017
My PowerPoint presentation delivered at the researchED/OUP English & MFL conference, April 2017: “What’s ‘holding back’ research-informed foundational literacy from reaching all teachers and learners?”
3rd April 2017
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The same teachers when equipped with the right kind of guidance and a fit-for-purpose body of work for teaching and learning make remarkable differences in short periods of time.

In my previous blog post, I made this claim:

“The same teachers when equipped with the right kind of guidance and a fit-for-purpose body of work for teaching and learning make remarkable differences in short periods of time.”

I shall evidence this statement. The main point here is something I’m always banging on about: teachers are fab and well-intentioned and hard-working everywhere – but they don’t always know how to teach as effectively as they could, and should. When pointed in the right direction and equipped properly, they work wonders very rapidly.

As for the children, they’re fab and they have brains designed like sponges – that is, designed to learn. If the children are not learning, then we are not teaching the right kind of things, or teaching the right kind of things well enough, and/or the children/learners simply don’t get enough ‘learning time’. This lack of sufficient ‘learning time’ is also a big issue – I often observe teachers working very hard, but children not getting enough of the right kind of practice.

I have illustrated this state of affairs via my blog: teachers often getting mixed messages about reading instruction – but it just takes properly evidence-informed guidance and a good ‘body of work’ and ‘enough practice’ – and ‘hey presto’ – just like magic you will get the results.

The remarkable Sam Bailey

Sam Bailey first heard me speak at an Oxford School Improvement event  prior to her first appointment as a headteacher. Clearly I struck a chord with Sam with my very plain-speaking approach. What I said about foundational literacy provision just made so much practical sense to Sam.

In Sam’s first school as head, she was able to provide statistical evidence of the difference highly practical, evidence-informed and well-equipped teaching made to literacy results. She wrote in 2014:

“Our first Floppy’s Phonics cohort (Reception 2011) are due to graduate from Y2 this summer – 98% are L2+ in Reading, and 40% L3+.
Our previous baseline, you may remember, was 50% L2+ and less than 10% L3.

Our 2014 Y1 phonics results are 98%! Amazing!” [The only child who did not reach the benchmark of 32 out of 40 words read correctly or plausibly joined the school in Y1 – not from Reception.]

Then Sam moved to be headteacher of another school – apparently 32nd from the bottom of England’s primary schools. We can only imagine what challenges Sam and her staff faced in such a struggling school. Within a short space of time, however, Sam’s school made the highest improvement leap in her authority and the seventh highest leap in the whole country. Much of this leap Sam attributed to the introduction of the very sensible and highly practical resources and guidance of my work (along with her leadership skills, passion and commitment of course). What followed from providing teachers with a fit-for-purpose body of work and guidance were all the very positive wider consequences on further teaching, learning, enthusiasm, behaviour management, school ethos and empowerment that improved literacy inevitably unlocks.

In the words of Sam Bailey (see the end of the video footage below when she was asked to what she attributed the school’s remarkable gains): Give permission: It is OK to put the ping pong balls away and sit the children downResourcing and permission are critical. In summary, Sam describes that with the right body of work, the teachers improved their professional knowledge via the resources themselves so they simply needed the ‘resources and permission‘ to make the difference.

The Reading Reform Foundation invited Sam to speak at their 2015 conference. The theme of her talk was, ‘Transforming the life chances of our children – simple methods, great results’. She described in detail the rapid improvements with the adoption of Systematic Synthetic Phonics programmes ( which were Oxford Reading Tree Floppy’s Phonics Sounds and Letters for the younger children and Phonics International for the older children) in a climate of support, expectation, challenge, and rigour:

Sam’s work in two very different primary schools provide examples of rapid, school-wide improvements from adopting a ‘body of work’ to equip teachers and learners appropriately – evidence-informed but highly, highly practical and also designed to inform parents and carers as a minimum – and to work in partnership with them as an aspiration.

Every sentence in Sam’s RRF talk is relevant to improving teaching and outcomes – this is a truly ‘must watch’ presentation and could easily serve any school or local authority well for teacher-training.

It also serves as a myth-buster for many ideological notions in the early years and infants of what children should or shouldn’t do, or will or won’t enjoy.

See 19 mins 11 secs to 20 mins 5 secs: “The sense of success is very fast. Very quickly at both schools, the children were telling me that their favourite lesson in the day was phonics.” [And Sam goes on to explain that the main activity was essentially a ‘worksheet’ which would be regarded by many teachers as formal and boring!]

See 32 mins 54 secs to 33 mins 22 secs: “…the standards of reading, writing and maths have shot through the roof. The pupil progress we insisted on in six months is mesmerising to me, actually – far faster, far greater than my experience in my Leeds headship. It’s astronomical – these children have achieved in a six month period, a year and a half’s worth of progress – at least. Some have achieved far more than that and the momentum is there.”