Education Endowment Foundation:Flexible Phonics

Flexible Phonics

UCL Institute of Education
Project info

Independent Evaluator

The Institute for Employment Studies logo
The Institute for Employment Studies
Training Reception teachers in strategies designed to optimise phonics teaching and improve children’s reading
Pupils: 2800 Schools: 100 Grant: £399,438
Participating settings: 100

This project and its evaluation were affected by the 2020 and 2021 partial school closures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. This meant schools experienced online rather than face-to-face training and support, and delivery of the intervention to pupils is likely to have been impacted. However, we do expect the trial to be completed within the initially expected timescales. The updated evaluation protocol is available here.

Flexible Phonics’ will train Reception teachers to optimise and complement their existing phonics teaching. Phonics is increasingly an established part of Reception teaching. This project will generalise the application of the approach to a larger number of words – including recognition of exception words (eg, wasp’) – to aid the ultimate goal of reading all words fluently.

Strategies included as part of the programme aim to:

  • enhance the teaching of phonological awareness;
  • suggest how to optimise the order graphemes are taught in, based on their frequency of occurrence in children’s books;
  • encourage children to use their understanding of the meaning of words to support their decoding; and
  • provide teachers with appropriate short texts to use on the same day as introducing a new grapheme for children to practise applying their knowledge of the new grapheme.

In this trial Reception teachers and teaching assistants will receive one day of initial training, a further half day of follow up training, two supportive school visits and ongoing online/​telephone support. Training will enable teachers and teaching assistants to deliver the strategies to a whole-class of pupils as well as a smaller intervention group

The strategies used in this approach were delivered a part of a recent study in Canada (Savage et al, 2018). Children at the same developmental phase of reading as children in English Reception classes received the programme in small groups (119 pupils) and were found to make greater progress in word reading (around +5 months’ additional progress) compared with pupils in the control group. Greater progress in reading was also retained four months later (around +3 months’ additional progress).

More broadly, phonics approaches have been consistently found to be effective in supporting younger readers to master the basics of reading, with an average impact of an additional +4 months’ progress in our Teaching and Learning Toolkit. 

The programme will be evaluated by a team from the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) using a randomised controlled trial. This will be an efficacy trial, meaning that the programme will be tested with the programme developer closely involved. It will measure the impact of delivering the programme’s two strategies – Direct Mapping and Set for Variability to Reception pupils – measuring reading ability at the end of the Reception year.

The evaluation will also include an implementation and process evaluation, which will analyse how the programme is implemented across different schools and the barriers and facilitators to implementation.

The evaluation report will be published in Spring 2022

If you express interest in this project, the EEF’s project delivery partner and evaluation partner will use your contact details for the purposes of recruitment to the project. Your contact details will not be used for any other purposes and will be deleted when no longer needed. A full privacy notice will be shared together with the recruitment documents. More information about data protection in EEF evaluations can be found here.