Market Drayton Infant & Nursery School

‘An excellent, happy school, where we enjoy learning’



At Market Drayton Infant and Nursery School we are determined that every child will learn to read by Year 2. The main approach to teaching children to read is phonics.  Phonics is such a big aspect of learning to read that we have put it separate to reading, although it is part of the reading curriculum.


Phonics is the first three aspects of the reading curriculum aims:

  1. To provide a structured and systematic approach to the learning and teaching of phonics. From January 2022, we are implementing the Essential Letters and Sounds (ELS) programme for the teaching of phonics. 
  2. To ensure children make good progress in their acquisition of phonic knowledge and have books with the sounds they have learnt, while they are learning to read.
  3. To ensure children’s phonic knowledge supports their acquisition of reading and writing skills, including correct letter formation and handwriting.


Phonics in a nutshell...

Words are made up from small units of sound called phonemes. Phonics teaches children to be able to listen carefully and identify the phonemes that make up each word. This helps children to learn to read words and to spell words.Phonics consists of teaching the skills of segmenting and blending the alphabetic code and an understanding of how this is used in reading and spelling. Simply put, it is hearing the sounds in a word and writing them down to spell it correctly. When reading, it is sounding out a word and sticking the sounds back together to read the whole word.


In phonics lessons children are taught three main things:


They are taught GPCs. This stands for grapheme phoneme correspondences. This simply means that they are taught all the phonemes in the English language and ways of writing them down. These sounds are taught in a particular order. The first sounds to be taught are s, a, t, p.


Children are taught to be able to blend. This is when children say the sounds that make up a word and are able to merge the sounds together until they can hear what the word is. This skill is vital in learning to read.


Children are also taught to segment. This is the opposite of blending. Children are able to say a word and then break it up into the phonemes that make it up. This skill is vital in being able to spell words.


What makes phonics tricky?

In some languages learning phonics is easy because each phoneme has just one grapheme to represent it. The English language is a bit more complicated than this. This is largely because England has been invaded so many times throughout its history. Each set of invaders brought new words and new sounds with them. As a result, English only has around 44 phonemes but there are around 120 graphemes or ways of writing down those 44 phonemes. Obviously we only have 26 letters in the alphabet so some graphemes are made up from more than one letter.


ch th oo ay (these are all digraphs - graphemes with two letters)

There are other graphemes that are trigraphs (made up of 3 letters) and even a few made from 4 letters.

Another slightly sticky problem is that some graphemes can represent more than one phoneme. For example ch makes very different sounds in these three words: chip, school, chef.


So why bother learning phonics?

In the past people argued that because the English language is so tricky, there was no point teaching children phonics. Now, most people agree that these tricky bits mean that it is even more important that we teach phonics and children learn it clearly and systematically. A written language is basically a kind of a code. Teaching phonics is just teaching children to crack that code. Children learn the simple bits first and then easily progress to get the hang of the trickier bits.


What is Essential Letters and Sounds?

Essential Letters and Sounds is a Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) programme, validated by the Department for Education. It includes on the essential elements for the teaching of phonics. The name reflects the key principles of the programme: simplicity and consistency.


The aim of Essential Letters and Sounds is that all children 'keep up, not catch up'. 

Essential Letters and Sounds:


  • is delivered to the whole class
  • combines continuous and reactive assessment
  • provides robust intervention
  • is rigorous and engaging
  • supports teachers to ensure the lowest attaining children keep up rather than catch up
  • aligns with books from Oxford University Press
  • provides immediate, in the lesson intervention
  • provides whole school training, accessible at times that suit the school timetable
  • supports Reading and Phonics Leads
  • training subscription includes an assessment tracker and analysis dashboard

Essential Letters and Sounds Overview

Phase 1*

Phase 2

Phase 3


Seven aspects:

• Environmental sounds

• Instrumental sounds

• Body percussion

• Rhythm and rhyme

• Alliteration

• Voice sounds

• Oral blending

Reception – Autumn 1

  • Oral blending
  • Sounding out and blending

with 23 new grapheme- phoneme correspondences


  • 12 new harder to read and

spell (HRS) words

Reception – Autumn 2; Spring 1; Spring 2

• Oral blending

• Sounding out and blending

with 29 new GPCs

• 32 new HRS words

• Revision of Phase 2

Phase 4

Phase 5 including alternatives and lesser-known GPCs

Beyond Phase 5

Reception – Summer 1

  • Oral blending
  • No new GPCs
  • No new HRS words
  • Word structures – cvcc,

ccvc, ccvcc, cccvc, cccvcc

  • Suffixes
  • Revision of Phase 2 and

Phase 3

Reception – Summer 2

  • Introduction to Phase 5 for


  • 20 new GPCs
  • 16 new HRS words


Year 1 - Autumn 1 and 2

  • Revision of previously

taught Phase 5 GPCs

  • 2 new GPCs
  • 9 new HRS words


Year 1 - Spring 1 and 2

  • Alternative spellings for previously taught sounds
  • 49 new GPCs
  • 4 new HRS words
  • Oral blending
  • Revision of Phase 2, Phase

3 and Phase 4

Year 1 Summer, Year 2 and KS2

  • With ELS, phonics teaching

does not stop at the end

of Year 1, but continues as

children move through the

school, with links being

made between their GPC

knowledge and spelling

  • Revision of all previously

taught GPCs for reading and spelling

  • Wider reading, spelling and writing curriculum

*Phase 1 of Letters and Sounds (2007) is used in Nursery/Pre-School settings before starting ELS in Reception.


Individual Reading

Individual reading books are directly linked to the phonics programme and match the individual children's needs.  The book given to your child will closely match the sounds and the 'hard to read and spell' words (for example, said, one) that your child has been learning in the class.  Each child will be given one book a week. 


The books that we use are those recommended in the Essential Letters and Sounds Programme.  These are books published by Oxford University Press and include a range of fiction and non-fiction books.

Working with Parents

In Reception parents are expected to attend a phonics workshop in the autumn term.   These have a very good uptake and involve parents working along side their child.  Where we have not been able to hold face to face events, we have held the meetings online. 


Here are a few resources to help you to support your child with these important stages of teaching early reading and phonics. 

Supporting Children with Special Educational Needs

Pupils should have access to a broad and balanced curriculum. The National Curriculum Inclusion Statement states that teachers should set high expectations for every pupil, whatever their prior attainment. We recognise that learning to read is key for children to succeed in all areas of the curriculum and as a life skill. 


Effective quality first teaching is the key to enabling all children to develop their reading skills.  This starts with the teaching of early phonics in early years, where children are learning to discriminate sounds through to the Essential Letters and Sounds Phonics Programme in Reception and KS1. Support specific to phonics may include:

  • Using a set of carefully planned resources to support the ELS programme where children are falling behind
  • Daily individual reading for the lowest 20% of pupils in each class
  • Use of equipment, such as magnetic letters to support
  • Regular repetition and practice throughout the day
  • Modelling by the teacher
  • Providing more adult support for those needing it
  • Partner or group work - a collaborative approach to learning
  • Support from external partners, for example, Learning Support Advisory Teacher
  • Support with speech sounds - we have specialist Teaching Assistants who support children with speech, language and communication needs


During their phonics lessons the teachers will continually assess the phonics learning within the session.  Built into the teaching progression are a series of points where the teachers review the learning that had been going on in the lessons in more depth. This allows them to pick up on any gaps in the learning so that the emphasis is on ‘keep up, not catch up’.  An online tracking tool means that there is a detailed assessment of phonics for each child, checking that they know the sounds and whether the child can apply these when reading a word.  For example, if a child knows the phoneme ‘sh’, can they apply it to read the word ‘shop’,


At the end of year 1 the children have to undertake a phonics screening check.  This usually takes place in June.  Your child will sit with a familiar adult, usually their class teacher, and read a range of words.  Some of these will be real words and some of them will be nonsense words.  The purpose of the nonsense words is for the child to show that they can apply their phonics skills.  Once the children have had the phonics screen, we send a letter to parents telling them whether your child has passed the phonics screen or not.  If they have not passed the screen in year 1, we will continue to work with your child as they move into year 2 and they will take the screening check again at the end of year 2.


We chose Essential Letters and Sounds as our phonics programme because it built on what we already did.  This has only been in place since January 2022 and what we have seen so far looks very promising and we think it will only enhance what we had in place before.  Due to the pandemic, our current year 2 and year 3 children did not take the screening check until the autumn term when they were in year 2.  These are our outcomes for the last three years:


2019 Phonics Outcome

% Passing the phonics screening check in Year 1

2020 Phonics Outcome

% Passing the Phonics Screening Check

(taken in autumn term Year 2)

2021 Phonics Outcome

% Passing the Phonics Screening Check

(taken in autumn term Year 2)




82% Nationally