What works for pupils with literacy difficulty?

10th July 2014

We found this GOV.UK document on what works for pupils with literacy difficulty really useful. We've posted the conclusion, and were happy to see the phonetic approach included as the suggested method to help children with severe difficulties, as well as students who are speaking English as a second language. The GOV.UK paper states these students need more ‘stand alone’ phonics teaching to support their speaking and listening. You can read the full conclusion here


  • Ordinary teaching (‘no intervention’) does not enable children with literacy difficulties to catch up.

    Implication: Although good classroom teaching is the bedrock of effective practice, most research suggests that children falling behind their peers need more help than the classroom normally provides. This help requires coordinated effort and training.

  • Schemes for secondary-age children are few, but several work well for reading.
    Implication: Provided they receive continuing support, children who make these gains should be

    better able to cope with the secondary curriculum.

  • Schemes for children who struggle with spelling work best when highly structured.

    Implication: Children with spelling problems need schemes tailored to their preferred ways of learning and delivered systematically ‘little and often’. Such schemes work particularly well for enabling children to grasp relatively regular patterns of spelling.

  • Work on phonological skills for reading should be embedded within a broad approach.

    Implication: Phonic teaching should normally be accompanied by graphic representation and reading for meaning so that irregular as well as regular patterns can be grasped. Children with severe difficulties in phonological skills or using English as an additional language may need more ‘stand alone’ phonics teaching to support their speaking and listening.

  • Children’s comprehension skills can be improved if directly targeted.

    Implication: Engaging the child in exploring meaning embeds the relevance of reading for life, expands vocabulary and broadens the range of texts. Children falling behind their peers need both carefully structured reading material and rich, exciting texts.

  • Working on children’s self-esteem and reading in parallel has definite potential.

    Implication: Building strong and trusting relationships between teacher and child is an essential prerequisite for accelerating learning. Schools need to provide a coherent network, using multi- agency support.

  • ICT approaches work best when they are precisely targeted.

    Implication: The mediation of a skilled adult is essential to ensure technologically-driven schemes meet children’s needs. Time needs to be allocated effectively so that the diagnostic tools of programmes can be used for each child appropriately.

  • Large-scale schemes, though expensive, can give good value for money.
    Implication: When establishing value for money, long-term impact and savings in future budgets for

    special needs must be considered, particularly when helping the lowest-attaining children.

  • Where reading partners are available and can be given appropriate training and support, partnership approaches can be very effective.

    Implication: Reading partners need skilled training and support to maximise impact. A school needs to manage partners so that feedback to classroom teachers is effectively and regularly given. Teaching and learning support assistants are well equipped to undertake this role.

  • Success with some children with the most severe problems is elusive, and this reinforces the need for skilled, intensive, one-to-one intervention for these children.

    Implication: The greater the problem, the more skilled the teacher needs to be. Children with special educational needs normally benefit from a highly-trained teacher working through an intensive and wide-ranging scheme using powerful ongoing diagnosis based on close observation.

  • Interventions longer than one term may produce proportionally further benefits but the gains need to be carefully monitored.

    Implication: If a scheme is not providing the required acceleration for a child, it is counter-productive to provide more of the same. Schools need to analyse the needs of individual children carefully and then match needs with the most appropriate intervention.

  • Good impact – sufficient to at least double the standard rate of progress – can be achieved, and it is reasonable to expect it.

    Implication: If the scheme matches the child’s needs, teachers and children should expect to achieve rapid improvement. High expectations are realistic expectations in most cases.

  • Most of the schemes which incorporated follow-up studies showed that the children maintained their gains or even made further gains.

    Implication: Classroom teachers need to be aware of the progress of children in intervention schemes and raise their expectations in line with that progress. Effective schemes give lasting benefit if normal teaching capitalises on them. 


Literacy, phonetic approach, phonics, teaching phonics,

Back to all blog posts


Keeping you posted

Keep up-to-date with the latest news, products and events from LearnThruMusic.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more content.

See all blog posts

Recent Posts

What to do next

Register for PhonicsThruMusic and start learning. Registration is easy and quick.

Sign up today to get started