We are aware that many members continue to be concerned about recent announcements from the government regarding the Letters and Sounds programme, and in particular the plan to remove the programme from the government’s validated list in spring 2022.
It is important to reiterate that despite the removal of Letters and Sounds from the validated list, the DfE’s own blog on this topic clearly states that: "You don’t have to stop using Letters and Sounds 2007 now, or at all".
It remains the case that schools are free to choose the phonics programme that works best for them. However, we also know that members remain concerned about the potential implications of the subsequent line in the same blog that goes on to state:
"What’s important is that schools take an approach that is rigorous, systematic, used with fidelity (any resources used should exactly match the Grapheme Phoneme Correspondence (GPC) progression of their chosen SSP approach), and achieves strong results for all pupils, including the most disadvantaged. We believe the easiest way to achieve this is to use a full SSP programme from the validated list, but this is not mandatory."
The DfE’s view appears to be that Letters and Sounds does not constitute a full Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) programme "because it doesn’t provide the support, guidance, resources or training needed."
However it has also noted in that same blog that many schools have successfully built a programme that sits around the Letters and Sounds resources, achieving strong outcomes for pupils.
Understandably, many members have also raised concerns about how Ofsted might interpret this announcement from the DfE, and NAHT has been made aware of some suggestions that schools are being told that they will not be able to achieve a ‘good’ overall effectiveness grade if they are using Letters and Sounds to teach phonics.
Ofsted has confirmed to us that this is not the case and that there is nothing in their handbook to say that schools using Letters and Sounds cannot achieve a ‘good’ grade. It has been clear that it will only judge reading according to what is in the inspection handbook (specifically section 5, Part 3 on early reading, Paragraphs 334-337).
We are conscious that despite this, some members will remain concerned about how inspectors interpret those sections in light of the government’s recent announcement and NAHT will continue to pursue this issue on behalf of our members.
First published 28 June 2021