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At St Mary's, we value reading as a key life skill and are dedicated to enabling our children to become lifelong readers with a love of books. We aim for every child to become a fluent reader by the end of Key Stage 1 so they can focus on developing their fluency, expression and comprehension as they move through Key Stage 2. To allow our children to develop a strong phonic awareness and effective blending and decoding skills, we use Essential Letters and Sounds (ELS) as our validated systematic synthetic phonics programme. 

What is Phonics? 

Synthetic phonics is a way of teaching children to read. It teaches children how sounds are represented by written letters. Children are taught to read words by blending these sounds together to make words. For example, they will be taught that the letters ‘m-a-t’ blend together to make ‘mat’.

A synthetic phonics programme, such as ELS, provides a structure for teaching these sounds in a certain order to build up children’s learning gradually. It is used daily during Reception and Year 1 to teach all the sounds in the English language.

Why do we use ELS? 

ELS teaches children to read using a systematic synthetic phonics approach. It is designed to be used as part of an early learning environment that is rich in talk and story, where children experience the joy of books and language whilst rapidly acquiring the skills to become fluent independent readers and writers. From the moment the children begin in Reception they are introduced to the ELS program providing them with the knowledge that they need to become successful learners is taught from the very start of they school education. 

The structure of each session is the same, meaning that the minimum cognative load is placed on the learners which allows them to focus on the lesson content and aqusition of skills. 

How is ELS taught in school?

With ELS, there is a daily phonics lesson where children are taught a new sound, or where they review sounds learned earlier in the week. This is shown to the class on the whiteboard.

Children learn the letters that represent the sounds. They are then asked to read words and sentences with the new sounds in. Children will also practise writing the letters that represent the sounds.

Additional support

ELS is delivered using a whole-class approach. This ensures that all children benefit from the full curriculum. Children who encounter difficulties are supported by the teacher throughout the lesson, and where further support is required, ELS has three interventions to ensure that any learning gaps are quickly filled. These are intended to be short and concise. This helps ensure that children do not spend excessive time outside of the classroom or in group intervention sessions where they are removed from the rest of the curriculum.


It is important that children’s progress is assessed thoroughly, so that any gaps can quickly be identified.

Assessment of the children’s reading skills is key to ensuring that all children make rapid progress through the programme, and that they keep up rather than catch up.

We assess children’s phonic knowledge in the fifth week of each half term, to allow all members of staff to target and close any gaps that may be present in either sound knowledge or reading skills. By undertaking assessment in the fifth week we are able to action a direct intervention before any upcoming school holidays.

Decodable readers

It is vital that whilst children are learning to read, they read books that match their phonic knowledge. The Oxford University Press decodable readers support Essential Letters and Sounds and have been carefully matched to every aspect of the programme. We use these books in school and as take-home readers.

How can you help at home?

Practising the sounds

You can help your child practise the sounds they have been learning at school. Download the charts from the Oxford Owl for Home website so you can see the list of sounds in the order they’ll be taught: Essential Letters and Sounds - Oxford Owl You can show these to your child along with the picture to help them remember.

Reading decodable books

Your child will bring home reading books with words that use the sounds they have been learning in school. You may hear these reading books called ‘decodable books’. Use the prompts inside the front and back covers to enjoy the book together and help your child practise reading.

By reading and re-reading texts both in school and at home we offer children the opportunity to develop a cohesive orthographic map of the words within our language. This in turn helps to build their reading fluency. The more you can read at home with your child, the better. We ask that children read the decodable reader they bring home at least three times during the week.

You can find more information about ELS, including the order the sounds are taught in, on the Oxford Owl website: Essential Letters and Sounds - Oxford Owl

Files to Download

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St Mary's Catholic Primary, Manor Lane, Middlewich, Cheshire, CW10 9DH