The 2014 SEND Code of Practice sets out what high quality special educational provision should be. A key feature of this high-quality provision comes from having ambitious goals for our children, based on accurate assessments of their learning and development as set out in Chapter 1.25:
“Early years providers, schools and colleges should know precisely where children and young people with SEN are in their learning and development. They should:
• ensure decisions are informed by the insights of parents and those of children and young people themselves
• have high ambitions and set stretching targets for them
• track their progress towards these goals
• keep under review the additional or different provision that is made for them
• promote positive outcomes in the wider areas of personal and social development, and
• ensure that the approaches used are based on the best possible evidence and are having the required impact on progress”
The 2021 DfE document The Reading Framework: Teaching the foundations of Literacy is very clear about the rights and needs of SEND children learning to read:
“Literacy is as important for these children as for their peers and teachers should be ambitious about teaching them to read and write. These children have to navigate the same written language, unlock the same alphabetic code, learn the same skills, and learn and remember the same body of knowledge as their peers. It is a critical skill in helping them prepare for adulthood” (p55).
The report draws on recent research which debunks the education myth that autistic people with moderate to severe learning difficulties are visual learners or do not learn through phonics. Bailey & Arciuli’s systematic review (2021) in fact determined that
“…comprehensive instruction that incorporates [phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, reading fluency and reading comprehension] …is not only appropriate for children with autism but also effective” (p. 56)
Our approach to Literacy is informed by research into early reading and how best to teach children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). We are conscious that neurodivergent brain development has significant impact on language acquisition and use. Reading is a very high demand skill for both processing time and working memory, so our understanding of cognitive load theory is essential in planning our very graduated approach to phonics and reading instruction. We also recognise that systematic synthetic phonics is a vital part of the teaching of reading skills to all those pupils who can access the skills of grapheme discrimination, segmenting and blending.
However, adopting a phonics scheme that does not take account of our pupils’ cognitive development and profile of needs will not be successful. As we are in the 2nd year of reintroducing formal phonics teaching, we have been able to learn from the pilot in 21-22 and make some significant changes which we believe will accelerate progress for most pupils in gaining phonemic skills & knowledge. We have joined the Little Wandle scheme as it has an adapted SEND version of the main programme based on Letters & Sounds, which will support staff in delivering literacy provision tailored to pathway cohort needs and strengths as set out below. The LW SEND programme has high ambitions for pupils and is based on the best possible evidence, thereby matching the Oaklands ethos of progress and challenge for our learners and fulfilling the definition of high-quality provision in the SEND Code of Practice.
Pathways all have daily literacy and language input sessions, which will be highly differentiated and progressively challenging over the school year. For many of our pupils, expanding their world reading and responding skills is the starting point and most urgent in order for them to meet their wants and needs and to develop independence. These pupils (Nurture, Willow & Elm) will begin their journey towards reading print with Phase 1 phonics activities, songs, and rhymes, which will develop sound discrimination and pattern matching skills. Their reading sessions will focus on exploring objects and their environment, before exploring narratives in a multisensory and physical way and working on close reading of images. Nurture & Willow classes may do daily short songs and rhymes but deliver phonics in one longer whole class session weekly to better meet pupil learning needs, and supplement this with 1:1 intervention as we identify gaps in pupils’ skills and knowledge.
For children established within Elm pathway who have developed sound discrimination skills consistent with Phase 1 aspects 5-7 and those in Cherry, we will begin formal phonics teaching based on the Little Wandle scheme SEND programme, where Phase 2-3 graphemes are taught before blending and whole words in recognition of the need to reduce cognitive load for children with significant learning difficulties.
Having assessed the cohort’s mastery of phonemic skills and identifying common gaps across Phases 2-3, Chestnut children will follow the main Little Wandle programme from Phase 2. This will ensure that they can learn at pace, whilst mastering all grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs) as well as securing a vocabulary of 500 words. This firm foundation will enable the Chestnut children to read with a good degree of fluency and prepare them for their next stage of education as all will be moving to different settings in August 2023.
We will continually review our phonics provision to ensure it best meets every pupil’s needs and to ensure fidelity to the principles of systematic synthetic phonics teaching. We also recognise that phonics is just one part of a rich and deep reading curriculum and so we will promote reading for pleasure is a core part of school life in 2022-23.
DfE accredited Scheme in use: Little Wandle Letters & Sounds (LW)