After nearly a year of behind-the-scenes debate with the Department for Education in England with regard to whether the DfE should persist with the idea of producing a ‘revised Letters and Sounds’, at last it has been accepted, and indeed stated, that Letters and Sounds has never been a full Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) programme.

Instead of revising and publishing a new version of Letters and Sounds, I suggested that the DfE could produce a new framework (not in the guise of a programme) which provides a steer on research-informed and practice-informed information for the foundations of literacy. This would build on what we have found in England’s context to date – ideally moving on from Letters and Sounds (DfES, 2007).

Minister Nick Gibb liked this idea and work on this new framework is underway as I write this post.

The following is a précised version of the statement sent out by the DfE on March 30th 2021 which references the forthcoming ‘framework’:

Thank you for your interest in the future of Letters and Sounds. We are now able to communicate a final position.

The 2007 Letters and Sounds handbook, published under the previous Government, has never been a full Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) programme. For a number of years, effective teaching using Letters and Sounds has relied on schools themselves building a programme around the handbook. Some schools have done this very successfully, and it was for this reason that schools achieving outstanding results using 2007 Letters and Sounds were included in the English Hubs programme in 2018. The Department recognises, however, that for many schools, especially those who need or want to improve their practice, 2007 Letters and Sounds is not fit for purpose and does not provide the support, guidance, resources or training needed.

The Department considered a variety of options for the future of Letters and Sounds and had originally commissioned a full SSP programme based on the 2007 Letters and Sounds handbook. As you may know from our previous communications, this would have included an updated order of progression addressing some of the flaws in the 2007 Letters and Sounds…..

….After careful consideration, the Department has decided that it should not continue with its involvement in this work. This in no way reflects the quality of the work produced, but the Department’s current policy is that SSP programmes should be created by teachers and phonics experts. This means that the Department will not publish a full Letters and Sounds programme, nor an updated progression.

We will, later this year, be publishing an early reading framework, which will be an important and comprehensive non-statutory guidance document to support the foundations of reading.

When the new framework is finalised and published, I will have more to say about it…..

For years people have muttered that ‘Letters and Sounds is not a programme, it’s a framework’ and yet thousands of schools state it is their SSP programme – and this is the case not only in England but overseas.

Am I the only person that said this openly and wrote about it – a state of affairs that should have been obvious to everyone?

What will happen next I wonder…

18th May 2021 – a significant development…

Word has spread about the Department for Education stating it will no longer ‘validate’ Letters and Sounds (DfES, 2007) having admitted that without teaching and learning resources, it is not a ‘full’ programme (after all). The DfE has further announced a new validation process opportunity.

This has caused some concern for teachers – particularly their position in Letters and Sounds schools. Consequently, the DfE has provided further information: The removal of Letters and Sounds 2007 from the Department’s list of validated phonics programmes – teachers’ questions answered.

This has then led to many headteachers and teachers contacting me to ask about my various phonics programmes when they are considering a change.

As part of addressing questions, here is a recorded video where I discuss the rationale and programme design with Carl Pattison, Early Reading Lead from the Flying High Trust.

***No. 3: The DfE admits that ‘Letters and Sounds’ (DfES, 2007) “has never been a full Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) programme” 14 years after its publication

3 thoughts on “***No. 3: The DfE admits that ‘Letters and Sounds’ (DfES, 2007) “has never been a full Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) programme” 14 years after its publication

  • April 8, 2021 at 6:14 pm

    Who is writing the new framework? Will it be based on good data?

    • April 9, 2021 at 12:40 pm

      Hi Jenny,

      I’m not at liberty to say. The new framework is in the hands of the DfE and not yet ready to be published.

  • May 22, 2021 at 11:18 am

    I now know who some of the writers are. The DfE has also sent me the draft Framework and asked me to comment, so I’ve done that.


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