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Information for parents/carers on our SSP

Who is Lesley Clarke?:

Lesley Clarke spent over 25 years as a classroom teacher (mostly in Reception and Y1) and has over 20 years experience as a literacy consultant, supporting schools to develop and improve their teaching of phonics and early reading and writing. Her phonics programme brings together teaching resources she has developed and trialled over many years and it was validated by the Department for Education in 2022.

You can find out more about Lesley Clarke here.


What is Systematic Synthetic Phonics?:

All schools have to teach systematic synthetic phonics as part of the National Curriculum. This involves children learning:

  • the letters/groups of letters (known as graphemes) which represent the 44 sounds in English.
  • to identify the sounds represented by each grapheme in a word and put them together to read the word.
  • to break words down into their smallest units of sound to spell them.
  • to read and spell ‘tricky words’ which have a ‘tricky’ part. This is usually a rare grapheme or one not yet known by the child. Some ‘tricky words’ have more than one ‘tricky’ bit.

You can find out more about synthetic phonics here (including the meanings of some of the words you child might start using).


Which year groups use the phonics programme?:

The programme covers the teaching of phonics in Reception and Y1 and Chatsworth chose to use the additional Y2 teaching programme as well. Some of the listening activities are suitable to use with nursery children too.


How often will my child have phonics lessons at school?

Everyday for 20-30 mins. Children who need some additional support with learning phonics may have an extra 10 min group lesson several times a week and some may also have a regular 2-5min 1:1 session with an adult.


How will my child remember the sounds represented by each letter/groups of letters (graphemes)?

The programme provides memory aids (called mnemonics) to help the children read and write each grapheme. When learning the sound represented by a single letter, an image is provided in which the letter is made to look like an object that starts with the sound that letter represents (eg cat represents the /c/ sound). A simple story linked to the object teaches the children how to form that letter (eg to form the letter ‘c’ they stroke the cat from head to tail).


For all the reception graphemes which contain more than one letter and the first set of new graphemes in Y1, the 2/3 single letter images are combined with a story which links them and provides the sound the grapheme represents.


How will my child learn to read the tricky words?

A tricky word is presented to the children initially with the tricky grapheme(s) in a different colour. The children still sound the word out, but have to remember the grapheme(s) in a different colour do not make their usual sound.


How will my child learn to spell the tricky words?

The programme provides a memory aid (called a mnemonic) to help the children spell each tricky word. This includes the word they are learning to spell. The mnemonics may be a song or a catchy sentence or something visual.


How will my child learn to choose the correct grapheme for a sound when they are writing words?

The children learn which grapheme is the ‘best bet’ when representing each sound at the beginning/middle or end of a word and this information is recorded on ‘best bet train cards’ displayed on the classroom wall.


For example, when writing the /j/ sound at the beginning/in the middle of a word ‘j’ is the best bet eg jam.

‘g’ is used before ‘e’, ‘i’ and ‘y’ (eg gel, gin, gym). 

When writing the /j/ sound at the end of a word, ‘dge’ is used after a short vowel eg fridge, badge, edge and ‘ge’ is used after anything else eg large.


Children are encouraged to use the ‘best bet’ rules to select the most likely grapheme and check to see if it looks right. Spellings will be phonetically plausible at this stage (not 100% accurate). Children will continue to practise using the ‘best bets’ when spelling words in Y2 and into KS2.


When will my child start to read books with words?:

As soon as your child is able to do both these things:

  • Recognise the sounds represented by some of the single letters of the alphabet.
  • Hear 3 sounds and put them together to make a word (eg hearing c-a-t and putting the 3 sounds together to make ‘cat’).


Your child’s school will be working hard to get your child to this point and they may ask you to help with this if your child needs a bit of extra practice. Please do not panic if you see other children bringing home books with words and your child isn’t. It would be counter productive to ask a child to try and read a book if they do not yet have the knowledge/skills to do this – they could decide that reading is something they find hard and don’t want to do and then it may be difficult to encourage them to practise their reading at home. None of us would want this - we would rather wait until your child is ready, so they have enjoyable and successful reading experiences both at school and at home.


Until they are ready to read 'books with words', your child will be reading textless books. These still develop their comprehension skills, as well as their ability to tell a story in their own words - both of which are important.


Which books will my child be reading?

Children will be reading a variety of good quality fiction, non-fiction and poetry texts matched closely to their progression through the phonics programme. Your child will have been taught all the graphemes and tricky words in the texts they are reading.


How can I help my child with phonics?


1. Be aware of what they are learning in phonics at school.

We will keep parents/carers regularly updated about what your child is learning in phonics at school. If you are not sure, please contact your child’s teacher.

If you would like to improve your own understanding of the phonics your child is learning, Lesley Clarke runs regular online workshops for parents/carers. You can find out more here.


2. Try really hard to pronounce the sounds correctly with your child:

It is really important that your child hears the correct pronunciation of sounds both at school and at home. The information on this page will help you to…

  • find out why this is important (by watching the short video clip at the top of the page)
  • check if you are pronouncing the sounds correctly (by watching a short video clip at the top of the page)
  • check how to pronounce particular sounds correctly if you are not sure (by clicking the red box with a white arrow, which will play you the sound represented by the grapheme next to it)


3. Find an appropriate time for your child to read to you.

In some households this may be after school and in others it may be first thing in the morning - whatever works best for you and your child.

Sometimes your child may bring home a book that they haven't looked at before and sometimes they may bring home a book which they have already read and need to re-read to develop their fluency and expressive reading. Research has shown that developing fluency in reading a text has a positive impact on a child's reading of their next text.


Please let your child hold the book, do any pointing that they require and turn the pages (either forwards or backwards) when they want to, so they are able to re-read and cross check information when they need to (just as you might when you read).


Praise your child when you see them trying to sound words out/split up long words/re-read a sentence if they've forgotten what they were reading/use expression in their voice. Enjoy talking to them about their book - reading is about comprehension as well as saying the words on the page.


Try and write something in the home reading diary. Comments on which words they sounded out, any graphemes they struggled to recognise, attempts to split up long words, what you talked about together, use of expression when reading are much more helpful for staff than writing 'read well', which doesn't provide the school with any information on your child's development as a reader.


If you would like further support on what to do with a book your child brings home to read to you, I do run regular online workshops for parents/carers on this topic. You can find out more here.


4. Read to your child regularly.

There is a lot of joy to be had when adults read to children. Fully involve your child in the decisions about what to read. Visit the library with them if you can and look for books on topics your child is interested in or other books by an author they have enjoyed. It is important to continue to read to your child for as long as they are happy for you to do so (even when they are capable of reading the books themselves).


5. Read texts together.

Some books your child brings home from school may be 'read together' books and if this is the case, the school make this clear to you. Your child may be able to do much of the reading, but you may need to help with a few of the more challenging words, which your child may not yet have the knowledge/skills to be able to sound out themselves.


Sometimes when you are reading something to your child, you may spot a word that they know and you could encourage them to read it before you continue.


When you are out and about with your child, you may see environmental print (eg street signs, posters, menus) that contain words you know your child can read. You may be able to encourage them to read that print with you.


6. Help your child with any phonics activities the school sends home for them to do

You may receive phonics activities for you to do with your child at home. If you do, please try and do these with your child, as the more practise they get, the faster their phonics knowledge and skills will improve.