DfE Systematic Synthetic Phonics Validation

Monster Phonics received fantastic feedback from the DfE on our June submission for validation. We have now submitted in the current October round after implementing the DfE recommendations. The DfE expect to announce the updated validated list of programmes by the end of this school term.

Our June feedback on the core programme was extremely encouraging, with the Panel noting: 

Overall, Monster Phonics appears to be a highly developed and comprehensive programme that has the potential to enable schools to provide high quality phonics teaching as defined by the Department for Education”  

Here is the feedback direct from the DfE on our initial submission:

The Validation Panel found that this programme was very close to meeting the criteria for validation and note that with further guidance… there will very likely be a positive outcome at a future round of validation. The panel also note in particular that the philosophy behind the programme is well presented in the manual, which is user friendly both in paper and electronic form. The approach taken flows through from beginning to end with materials that have a unity of visual features and language.

Overall, Monster Phonics appears to be a highly developed and comprehensive programme that has the potential to enable schools to provide high quality phonics teaching as defined by the Department for Education. The evidence provided in the self-assessment form was informative and suggests that the programme is very close to meeting all the criteria. The recommendations for minor amendment here are thought to enable the programme to meet the highest expectations of schools. The Panel considers that the concerns outlined could be addressed in a timely manner.

DfE June 2021  

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The Department for Education’s new phonics validation process ensures that schools are able to purchase comprehensive programmes with effective teaching to enable children to achieve and surpass expectations at the end of KS1.

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So what is Systematic Synthetic Phonics?

Phonics is all about how the alphabetic system works, and how to apply it in reading and spelling. A programme should promote the use of phonics as the route to reading unknown words before any other comprehension strategies are applied.

Research shows that children learn to read best with a systematic synthetic approach to phonics with high quality teaching. Synthetic phonics teaches children how to blend or synthesise words using the smallest units of sound (phoneme). First, they are taught to connect the sound with the written representation (graphemes) which may be one letter or a group of letters (for example, igh). Then they are then taught to read by blending these sounds together. Spelling (also known as segmentation) is the reverse process.

Systematic means that the teaching progression is logical, starting with single letters sounds to enable children to read and spell simple words, leading to consonant digraphs and vowel digraphs ( 2 and 3 letter units) and longer words. Common exception words are also taught in a progression that fits within the phonics teaching programme.

What are the Criteria for Validated Programmes?

Validation will ensure that a programme is complete and provides all the resources necessary to teach children in Reception and KS1, up to or beyond the standards expected by the national curriculum. It should also provide sufficient support for children to become fluent readers.

The programme should:

  1. constitute a complete SSP programme providing fidelity to its teaching framework for the duration of the programme
  2. present systematic, synthetic phonic work as the prime approach to decoding print
  3. enable children to start learning phonic knowledge and skills early in reception, and provide a structured route for most children to meet or exceed the expected standard in the year one (Y1) Phonics Screening Check and all national curriculum expectations for word reading through decoding by the end of key stage 1
  4. be designed for daily teaching sessions and teach the main grapheme-phoneme correspondences of English (the alphabetic principle) in a clearly defined, incremental sequence
  5. begin by introducing a defined group of grapheme-phoneme correspondences that enable children to read and spell many words early on
  6. progress from simple to more complex phonic knowledge and skills, cumulatively covering all the major grapheme-phoneme correspondences in English
  7. teach children to read printed words by identifying and blending (synthesising) individual phonemes, from left to right all through the word
  8. teach children to apply the skill of segmenting spoken words into their constituent phonemes for spelling and that this is the reverse of blending phonemes to read words
  9. provide opportunity for children to practise and apply known phoneme-grapheme correspondences for spelling through dictation of sounds, words and sentences
  10. ensure that children are taught to decode and spell common exception words (sometimes called ‘tricky’ words), appropriate to their level of progress in the programme
  11. provide resources that support the teaching of lower-case and capital letters correctly, with clear start and finish points.
  12. The programme should move children on by teaching them to write words made up of learned GPCs, followed by simple sentences composed from such words as well as any common exception words (‘tricky words’) learned
  13. be built around direct teaching sessions, with extensive teacher-child interaction and involve a multi-sensory approach. The programme should include guidance on how direct teaching sessions can be adapted for online delivery (live or recorded)
  14. provide resources to enable teachers to deliver the programme effectively including sufficient decodable reading material to ensure that, as children move through the early stages of acquiring phonic knowledge and skills, they can practise by reading texts closely matched to their level of phonic attainment, that do not require them to use alternative strategies to read unknown words
  15. include guidance and resources to ensure children practise and apply the core phonics they have been taught
    enable children’s progress to be assessed and highlight the ways in which the programme meets the needs of those who are at risk of falling behind, including the lowest attaining 20% of children
  16. provide full guidance for teachers to support the effective delivery of the programme and appropriate, programme-specific training either directly, through appointed agents or remotely; with assurances that there is sufficient capacity to do so and that those delivering this training will have appropriately high levels of expertise and relevant experience.

What does the DfE say about Letters and Sounds?

“The 2007 Letters and Sounds handbook, published under the previous government, has never been a full SSP programme. For a number of years, effective teaching using Letters and Sounds has relied on schools themselves building a programme around the handbook. We recognise, however, that for many schools, especially those who want or need to improve their practice, 2007 Letters and Sounds is not fit for purpose and does not provide the support, guidance, resources or training needed.”

When Letters and Sounds was first published in 2007, it was the first time that detailed information was provided on how to teach SSPs. However, it can seem overwhelming and does not provide lesson plans and activities, placing a lot of demand on teaches to spend time on resource creation. It does not fit neatly with the KS1 Spelling Curriculum. Therefore it cannot ensure full coverage or provide all that is necessary to facilitate the teaching of quality phonics.

What should schools do next?

The final list of validated phonics schemes will be available by the end of February 2021. Schools do not have to use a validated programme, however by doing so, they can feel confident that the teaching content and methodology is in place to help children to meet and surpass the expected standards at the end of KS1, helping teachers to focus on teaching and children.

Will Monster Phonics be applying for validation?

Yes, Monster Phonics will be applying for validation in October.

Feedback from the June process:

Overall, Monster Phonics appears to be a highly developed and comprehensive programme that has the potential to enable schools to provide high quality phonics teaching as defined by the Department for Education”

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The Monster Phonics Programme is an SSP that comprehensively delivers all 16 criteria. Our speciality and what makes Monster Phonics stand out is the engagement and love of learning that is felt in every Monster Phonics classroom. Easy to teach lessons are multisensory and enable every child to make progress. Monster Phonics is having a positive impact on learning in school across the UK. Monster Phonics Days, with input from across the school community, case studies and results show how children are engaged. Never before has phonics been embraced so much. The matching decodable books are also loved by children, teachers and parents tell the same story.

I’m the founder of monster phonics. As a teacher, my passion has been driven by the feeling that all children can succeed. The SSP validation process enables schools to feel confident that the phonics programme they use, the training, books and resources are aligned, comprehensive and importantly support teachers in this goal.