By: Kenny Wheeler, Senior Consultant Teacher at Driver Youth Trust (DYT) 

Throughout the early part of the 2020 autumn term, Ofsted carried out pilot visits to assess how schools and learners were reacting to the pandemic. Their findings highlighted areas that many schools were (and probably still are) focusing on in order to address the knowledge gaps of their learners. The report also highlighted the steps schools planned to take in order to get back to some degree of normality. Most schools were hoping that they would return to their full, normal curriculum by Summer 2021.

Interpreting the findings

Since the sample size was relatively small (only 121 settings were visited), we need to be cautious when interpreting the report’s findings. Learners had also only been back in school for the autumn term for a short period of time. Things might well have changed since the initial visits, with schools having a clearer understanding as to the nature of any gaps that learners have.

Whilst some leaders commented that it was too soon to fully appreciate what gaps may exist there were some areas that leaders consistently commented on. Some of the gaps related to reading in particular:

  • Reading including the use of phonics
  • Reading fluency and comprehension

Are the knowledge gaps new or historical?

What we do know is that gaps existed before the pandemic and its resulting lockdown. We know that some learners have always struggled to read and have experienced extreme difficulties accessing and understanding text in lessons. SEND statistics rose again in 2020 with 12.1% of learners at SEN Support and 3.3% having an EHCP. This equates to almost 1.3 million learners with SEND. How have their needs changed over the last few months?

Tackling reading gaps

Our guidance below looks at what teaching staff can do to help refresh and remind learners of the skills and strategies needed to read and understand texts. These are the skills that helped learners develop good reading habits in the first place so it may be a case of being consistent and reminding them over and over to use them when reading.

Developing and reinforcing phonics:Creating the bedrock for reading, ensuring that letter sounds are secure and used to help decode words in a text.

Strategies for primary settings: 

  • Refer back to the phonics programme used in the school. Use this content to remind learners of the skills they developed and stimulate their memory to re-ignite their use of phonics.
  • Use manipulatives such as magnetic letters and get learners to sound out what they see. This can also be an opportunity to build in diagraphs which will help when decoding words.
  • Use flashcards so that you can point out the letters and the sounds they make, this can also help develop sight vocabulary leading to automaticity.
  • Model the sounding out process so that learners can see the shape your mouth makes when pronouncing letters and diagraphs. This will also help with speech development.

Reinforcing phonics: Reminding learners of letter sounds which are used to help decode words in a text.

Strategies for secondary settings:

  • Encourage learners to break down words into syllables so that they can see the sounds within each word.
  • Teach learners to look for patterns or prefixes or suffixes in words so that they can apply reading strategies they have been taught over the years. This is especially useful for identifying Phonics patterns in subject specific words.
  • Use sounding out to reinforce how learners can breakdown challenging words within a text. This builds on phonics and is an effective strategy for tackling more complex vocabulary.
  • Use assistive technology such as immersive reader on Microsoft word online to identify word categories and make use of the read aloud function so learners can hear letter sounds.

Reading fluency and comprehension: Reading at a speed that helps us to be able to make sense of what is on the page.

Strategies for all phases:

  • Break long passages into shorter blocks when projecting onto the whiteboard so that learners only focus on a limited amount of text.
  • Check that learners understand what specific words actually mean. Could it be a language comprehension issue rather than a reading comprehension issue? Exploring vocabulary using a checklist
  • Read texts aloud to learners so that they can follow what is happening and make sense of it without the pressure of decoding tricky words in the text. Pause and pose questions to explore what learners comprehend from the text so far.
  • Explore subject specific words using the Frayer model so that learners have a clear understanding of the word and know when to use it. Frayer model


How can DYT help?

Driver Youth Trust has a suite of professional learning and development activities for teachers, teaching assistants and school leaders. We believe every young person should access the highest quality education that is responsive to their literacy needs.

Our webinars, workshops and programmes are designed to support educators to develop their practices in order to better meet the needs of learners with literacy difficulties.

Check out our professional learning offer here!

Written by ChatterPack

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