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Parents: Options for Intervention

What does government guidance (England) say about what constitutes effective intervention work for pupils who struggle to decode and spell?

In his 2006 review of the teaching of early reading (accepted in full by the government), Sir Jim Rose recommended that: ”(E)ffective intervention work should focus on the phonic skills children have already met in their mainstream classes but may need more help and time from skilled adults to strengthen and secure those aspects they had not first understood” (Rose review 2006 para153)

England’s National Curriculum (English KS1 and KS2), statutory in state-maintained schools, states:
”As in key stage 1, however, pupils who are still struggling to decode need to be taught to do this urgently through a rigorous and systematic phonics programme so that they catch up rapidly with their peers”

2021. ”Children who are at risk of falling behind need extra practice to consolidate and master the content of the programme. Programmes should provide guidance on how to support these children so that they keep up with their peers. Options for support could include 1 to 1 tutoring. They should not suggest or provide a different SSP programme for these children.” (DfE’s ‘Validation of systematic synthetic phonics programmes’ doc. Note 9.)
Options for Intervention / Catch-Up:

Option 1. An in-school intervention:

Despite statutory guidance that children in KS1 and KS2, ”…who are still struggling to decode need to be taught to do this urgently through a rigorous and systematic phonics programme”, intervention in many schools still amounts to little more than the school’s most severely struggling decoders being given time out of class to work with a teaching assistant (TA) in a small group (Wave 2) using a balanced approach ‘catch-up’ literacy scheme, a phonics-lite intervention, or put to work on a computer-based ‘dyslexia’ programme (see Room 101)

Parents should be aware that, in most state schools, children struggling with decoding are likely to be placed with a TA for literacy support. In fact, the more severe their difficulties the more likely it is that they will be taken out of class and taught by a TA whilst their classmates remain in the classroom and are taught by the teacher. ”There has been a drift towards TAs becoming, in effect, the primary educators of lower-attaining pupils and those with SEN” (Teach Primary. issue 6.3.p13).

A five-year study (Diss: Deployment and impact of support staff) found that there was a consistent negative relationship between the amount of TA support a pupil received and the pupil’s progress. This was found across primary and secondary years. A primary teacher comments, ”(T)he slower learners and those with often complicated special needs are “taught” maths and English in small groups or individually by untrained (but very well-meaning) classroom assistants leaving the rest with the teacher. It has always struck me as a paradox that the neediest are taught by (with the greatest of respect) the least capable staff”. Note, this is not a clear cut issue as there are schools with (HL)TAs who are highly effective at teaching struggling readers because they are fully trained specialists and very capable of delivering a high quality phonics intervention programme.

2018. Children receiving targeted literacy support ”have less access to their teacher’s time and expertise”

For detailed information on which ‘in school’ literacy interventions should be avoided, go to ‘Room 101‘ 

Option 2. Only for the affluent or for the few who can obtain an LEA grant – an independent school with ‘specialist dyslexia’ teaching:
This often involves the child boarding, which can be an extra trauma for an already unhappy child, and there is NO guarantee that the school will use a high quality phonics intervention programme to teach reading. Some of the methods used to teach reading in these schools (see examples below) are best described as ‘quirky’.

”Brooks (2007) has described ratio gains of between 1.4 and 2.0 as having ‘small impact’ and being ‘of modest educational significance’; ratio gains less than 1.4 he classes as being of ‘very small impact’ and ‘of doubtful educational significance’. On this basis, all the results reported from studies in UK specialist [dyslexia] schools and teaching centres would be regarded as disappointing (or even disregarded altogether) since the largest ratio gain was only 2.0 (except at Moon Hall School)” which uses a linguistic phonics programme. (italics added. Singleton p74)

Two ‘specialist dyslexia’ schools – examples of methods used to teach reading:
Maple Hayes:
”The Maple Hayes technique sorts words into morphemes (units of meaning). These are either spelt conventionally by a combination of letters, or represented by simple images called icons. The approach uses only one sense at a time, to block out distractions. Reading is visual rather than aural (early lessons are almost silent), while writing practice is by touch, using cursive script where the pen stays on the paper. To help pupils concentrate, they will be blindfolded at first.” (TES)
Fairley House:
”Multi-Sensory Approach: To help learn words beginning with “squ”, pupils squeeze oranges. For “shr”, they shred paper” (Telegraph Education. 02/03/2007)
”A pupil at Fairley House, Pimlico has used his mouth to retrieve a raisin from a bowl of flour. The ‘what have you found in the mound of flour?’ reinforces the use of the vowels o and u” (Times article)

Option 3. Use an alternative therapy on the basis of personal anecdotes and testimonials:

Alternative therapies for reading difficulties/dyslexia, ”generally have a weak (or non-existent) evidence base and poor efficacy, and often rely on the superficial attractiveness of a promised instant (and comparatively effortless) ‘cure’’ (Singleton p22) ”Testimonials are the number one tool of choice for those who do not have evidence.” (Guy Chapman. Guardian comment) Even if the alternative intervention is non-harmful, there is an opportunity cost for students (and often a financial cost to parents) and a residue of negative emotion for both parents and the child when the system has no discernible effect. (K. Hempenstall) See Room 101

Option 4. Privately arranged high quality phonics tuition:
Carefully chosen 1-1 tuition, where the tutor uses a high quality phonics programme, can be the solution if it can be afforded and as long as the child is happy to attend. Specialist phonics tuition can take place legally off the school premises, during school hours, at the discretion of the school, as an ‘Approved educational activity off-site’. For the youngest children, 6-7 yr. olds, this is essential as they are usually far too tired after school. Parents should approach the school in a spirit of cooperation and negotiate a mutually agreeable time to withdraw their child for tuition. It is, after all, in the school’s interest to have their pupils able to read and write effectively.

In law, it is always the parents’ duty to provide a suitable education for their children, including catering for any special needs (Education Act 1996 Section 7). Normally, parents delegate this duty to a school. If parents believe that the school is failing to provide their child with a ‘suitable’ education then the parents are obliged to do something about it. By arranging specialist tuition during school hours, they are acting responsibly and are trying to fulfil their lawful duty by setting up what the school can’t/won’t provide. The school needs to have a very good reason to withhold consent – is the school able/willing to provide equivalent tuition: regular one-to-one tutoring by someone with expertise in using high quality phonics remedially, paid for by the school? Probably not!

Choosing a specialist phonics tutor: Make sure that the tutor uses a high quality phonics intervention programme and fully decodable reading practice material as the basis for their teaching. Avoid any tutor who claims to ”tailor the lessons to a child’s individual learning style” or uses a programme that includes whole word memorising, multi-cueing (guessing) strategies or strange procedures such as spelling words backwards or drawing around words to create shapes – see What NOT to teach. Don’t use a tutor who suggests that, in addition to tutoring, your child’s reading difficulties would benefit from glasses with tinted lenses or overlays, vision training, balancing exercises or any other unfounded ‘dyslexia’ therapy….see Room 101

The phonics intervention programme must work rapidly, with positive advances to the child’s reading and writing skills being perceptible to all involved – parent, child and tutor – within a short time. Furthermore, the tutor should, ”Involve the parent…directly in homework so that she has a positive role and can maintain gains between sessions and after sessions have ended.” (D. McGuinness WCCR p320)

Caution: If your child is receiving tuition using a high quality phonics intervention programme, in school or out, it is always beneficial, sometimes vital, in order for the intervention to be fully effective, that your child is not confused by ‘mixed messages’ as a result of being expected to use the balanced word reading approach (multi-cue word-guessing) when other literacy activities occur during the school day -see link below.

”School: look at the picture and guess – 7 hours a day. Tutoring: 4 hours a week of evidence-informed instruction. The progress is slowed to a snail’s pace by the confusion.” 
(Amanda, parent of a struggling reader)

Attention during learning. ”It’s really not fair to him that adults are teaching him two contradictory things. I teach him to sound out every word, but Reading Recovery encourages sounding out only as a last resort, and teaches children to attempt to read words beyond their decoding level (so, of course, the only thing they can do is guess)”

Option 5. For prevention or intervention – teach your child yourself, at home:

Parents teaching reading and spelling to pre-schoolers -> 6yrs old: Teaching reading pre-school

High quality phonics programmes: some programme trainings are open to parents, carers and homeschoolers:
Phonics resources and programmes

Cumulative phonics intervention tutoring using Phonic Books: a slower-paced linguistic phonics intervention to help kids who have very poor memories to more easily remember the spelling alternatives: