Tags: Reading and writing skills | SENCO Week | Teaching Skills

In this issue of SENCO week, we will consider the SENCO’s role in developing reading, beginning with how you can support excellent ‘first teaching’

Support for SENCOs

Unless you’ve been abroad for the last few months, you are bound to know that 2008 has been designated the ‘National Year of Reading’. This involves a nationwide campaign to promote reading for purpose and pleasure among children, young people, families and adult learners. The campaign will go live in April and schools can get involved by signing up to become a Reading Connects School on the National Literacy Trust website. Schools can also take part by getting in touch with their local library and joining the 2008 Summer Reading Challenge. Contact your local authority NYR coordinator to find out exactly what will be going on in your area from this spring onwards and how your school can join in.


A campaign like this can be a good springboard for focusing on reading as a school, auditing what you do and trying out new approaches and materials. This might involve some input for staff, from the SENCO or LA pupil support service, on how to recognise children who get off to a shaky start − and how to support them. The majority of children learn to read without too many problems. The best readers tend to be those who have grown up with books at home and from the age of a few months, were being cuddled on mum’s lap, looking at pictures of ‘Spot’, lifting the flaps and feeling the ‘fuzzy bits’. They will have progressed to rhymes and short stories and by the time they reach school, will know a lot about how books work. Many will already know some key words and letter sounds; these children need to be ‘taken on’ from where they are rather than being held back in line with the rest of the class − but that’s another issue. For children who haven’t had these experiences, there is a lot of ground to cover before they are launched into a reading scheme and a phonics programme, and an important role for you to play in supporting staff in the early years department as they try to fit in as much book and story experience as possible. And language work. Until a child can use and understand words, getting to grips with text is impossible. Many schools now run language development groups for vulnerable children, addressing weak expressive and receptive language skills through games and other forms of ‘play’, extending vocabulary, and laying down firm foundations on which the skills required for reading can be built. Phonological awareness is another area where children may need extra input before they can really make any headway with learning to read. Too often, a child is launched into a ‘full on’ phonics programme before they are able to distinguish between sounds − no surprise that they struggle. Making sure that all staff understand these issues and have good strategies for dealing with them helps to avoid the situation later on where a significant number of children require ‘catch up’ programmes because their ‘first teaching’ wasn’t as effective as it might have been. It also reduces the risk of children losing confidence and self esteem which as we know, can lead to behaviour issues and a downward spiral in different aspects of their learning and progress. Asking colleagues to indicate any areas where they feel less than confident will enable you to plan CPD that is relevant; you could circulate a tick sheet listing focus areas such as those below:

  • developing language skills
  • assessing children’s difficulties
  • ensuring adequate reading practice/book sharing
  • using technology − talking books, etc
  • appropriate materials − levelling books; sideways reading
  • reading for understanding

You may find that colleagues who have worked with young children are experienced in these fields, whereas those who have taught mainly in KS2 may be less confident. In secondary schools, it’s likely that the majority of staff will be unfamiliar with strategies for teaching reading and will look to the SENCO and support assistants to plan and implement any remedial work required. There are useful strategies for using in classrooms however, and highlighting these for staff can be valuable:

  • ascertain pupils’ reading levels and assess accessibility of texts, provide easier texts if necessary − short sentences, plenty of pictures, difficult words explained
  • provide regular opportunities for reading practice, but build in ‘prep’ time where appropriate before asking pupils to read aloud in class
  • provide varied means of accessing text, eg text read aloud in class or pair student with a more able peer; put texts on tape
  • highlight and explain subject-specific key words, have these displayed (not in capital letters)
  • write clearly on the board, in large script; use colour − using different colours for alternate lines of writing can make it easier for students to find the right place.
[Next week, we’ll look at some interventions.]

SEN News

Sunfield is a national UK charity specialising in the care of children with severe and complex learning needs and is recognised internationally for its work with children with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). Its Professional Development Centre is also renowned, offering a wide range of conferences, courses and workshops to educators, carers, parents and other professionals. Sunfield also hosts conferences of a multi-disciplinary nature relating medical, social and care issues to the everyday needs of people with disabilities. Sunfield also prides itself on being one of the UK TEACCH Centres able to offer five-day TEACCH training twice a year (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children).


Support Sharon Hodgson MP’s Private Members’ Bill on SEN, which is currently going through Parliament. The aim of the Bill is to get the Government to collect and publish more data about SEN pupils and their performance at school. This will then help to identify where more support is needed etc. For the Bill to pass through parliament, 100 MPs have to attend a debate on 01/02/08. So we’re trying to get people to write to their MPs and urge them to attend. We’ve got a template letter available on the website that people can just download and either email to their MP or post it to them. All the info is here:


This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2008

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.