Units of Sound (UofS) is a computer-based programme designed to help struggling readers with their reading and spelling skills. It is a structured, multisensory programme that covers reading and spelling from simple phonics skills through to adult reading levels. It involves a high level of independent work by the student, with small groups of students supervised by a teacher or teaching assistant. Each ‘unit of sound’ (or phonic code) is introduced separately, then used in words, and then sentences.
This evaluation assessed the reading ability of 786 Year 7 students in 45 schools. Students were randomly assigned within the schools to receive the intervention if they had scored below Level 4 on their Key Stage 2 SATs.
The evaluation was funded by the Education Endowment Foundation as one of 23 projects focused on literacy catch-up at the primary-secondary transition for students who did not achieve Level 4 in English by the end of Key Stage 2.
Two staff members in each school were identified to implement the interventions with groups of approximately five Year 7 students at a time. The designated teachers/teaching assistants in the participating schools undertook the 10-hour initial online training in UofS. Of the 45 schools that took part in the study, 31 had four sessions of additional face-to-face training and support from Dyslexia Action (DA) coaches and 14 had only online distance training and support instead of face-to-face support.
Students spent one 60-minute session with the teaching assistant present and a further 30-minute session on another day working independently on the material covered with the teaching assistant. Schools varied in how they allocated the time. The intervention lasted for 18 weeks.
Students were evaluated at baseline on the New Group Reading Test (NGRT) and then at follow-up on the NGRT and the Single Word Spelling Test (SWST). A light-touch process evaluation was conducted to determine teaching assistants’ and students’ perceptions of the programme. This included surveys of teaching staff and students and interviews with the DA coaches.