The DfE Reading Framework 2021 – an Introduction

2021 reading framework guidance

What is the DfE 2021 Reading Framework?

The DfE Reading Framework was published in July 2021 and contains guidance for schools to meet existing expectations for teaching early reading to further improve reading standards. 

Reading is fundamental to education. Proficiency in reading, writing and spoken language is vital for pupils’ success. Through these, they develop communication skills for education and for working with others: in school, in training and at work. Pupils who find it difficult to learn to read are likely to struggle across the curriculum, since English is both a subject in its own right and the medium for teaching. This is why the government is committed to continuing to raise standards of literacy for all.

Aims of the 2021 DfE Reading framework

So what are the aims of the 2021 Reading Framework?

The Reading Framework Guidance is for primary schools, initial teacher training (ITT) partnerships, specialist provision and others in England. It focuses on the early stages of teaching reading. Its key objective is to help schools meet their expectations around early reading as set out in the national curriculum and the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) statutory framework. It also aligns with Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework.

The guidance aims to: 

  • set out some of the research underpinning the importance of talk, stories and systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) in the teaching of reading.
  • provide practical support for high-quality teaching, including assessment and the importance of ‘fidelity to the programme’4.
  • support schools to evaluate their teaching of early reading, especially in Reception and year 1, and identify how to improve provision if weaknesses are found.
  • explain the importance of systematic phonics teaching for older pupils who are at risk of failing to learn to read because they cannot decode well enough.
  • support schools working with parents to help their children learn to read
The document is based on teachers’ experiences, classroom observations, assessments and research,as well as advice from and the contributions of experts from the early literacy sector.
It also reflects the experiences of many primary schools that excel in the teaching of reading, including those in the English Hubs programme, which is administered by the Department for Education (DfE).

The references to research provide schools, ITT trainees, and those who teach them, with sources for further reading. The appendices of the framework give additional support, including a glossary.

ITT partnerships may wish to consider using the guidance with trainees to develop their understanding of early reading, especially SSP, and to give them informed and practical support.

Why reading matters?

So why does reading matter so much?

The guidance begins by setting out the social, cultural and economic importance of reading before outlining a conceptual model of it. The national curriculum programmes of study for reading are based on this model, which consists of two dimensions: language comprehension and word reading.

Language comprehension

The guidance discusses the importance of talk and stories, and the critical links between these, especially the role stories play in developing young children’s vocabulary and language. It explains how teachers might expand children’s store of words through talk throughout the day, within the curriculum and, in particular, through stories. Listening to and talking about stories and non-fiction develops children’s vocabulary, because they meet words they would rarely hear or use in everyday speech. Understanding vocabulary is vital for comprehension and so also for wider learning and progress.
The guidance also considers the role of poetry, rhymes and songs in attuning children to the sounds of language.

Teaching word reading and spelling

The national curriculum is designed to make sure that all children are able to read and write fluently by the time they leave year 6, so that they can make progress at secondary school. A vital element of this is the early and successful teaching of phonics.

Understanding that the letters on the page represent the sounds in spoken words underpins successful word reading. Children’s knowledge of the English alphabetic code – how letters or groups of letters represent the sounds of the language – supports their reading and spelling.

This guidance explains why teachers themselves also need to understand the alphabetic code: evidence supports the key role of phonic knowledge and skills in early reading and spelling.
The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is the government-designated What Works Centre for Education, providing authoritative advice on evidence to improve teaching and learning. The EEF considers phonics to be one of the most secure and best-evidenced areas of pedagogy and

recommends all schools use a systematic approach to teaching it. The DfE’s Early Career Framework, which was quality assured by the EEF, sets out the expectation that all early career teachers learn about phonics and says that SSP is the most effective approach for teaching pupils to decode. Schools should therefore be confident in the rationale for teaching SSP as part of their teaching of reading. Data from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLs) in 2016 also shows a significantimprovement in the reading performance of boys in England (reducing the gap between boys and girls by 11 points since 2011), a finding that could be attributed to the roll out of systematic phonics programmes in England since 2010.

Children at risk of failure

Pupils who fail to learn to read early on start to dislike reading. The guidance emphasises that pupils need to keep up with their peers rather than be helped to catch up later, at a point when learning in the wider curriculum depends so much on literacy. Where pupils make insufficient progress, extra efforts should be made to provide them with extra practice and support from the beginning.
In evaluating schools’ teaching of reading, Ofsted’s inspectors pay particular attention to pupils who are reading below what is expected for their age.

Leadership and management

Since the national curriculum is statutory in state-maintained primary schools, teachers are required to teach a programme of systematic phonics from year 1. The EYFS statutory framework also refers to the first stages of systematic phonics. The guidance on leadership and management highlights the roles of school leaders in successfully implementing a programme, and training and supporting their staff to teach reading as effectively as possible. Ofsted inspects how well primary schools teach their pupils to read using SSP.

Inspectors listen to children reading, observe lessons, consider schools’ policies for teaching reading, and take account of the outcomes of phonics assessments and data from the phonics screening checks
Schools that need to improve their teaching of phonics may find the section on word reading and spelling particularly useful.

Covid recovery

The DfE recognises that extended school restrictions have had a substantial impact on children and young people’s learning and is committed to helping pupils make up learning they have lost because of the pandemic.
As reading is so important for accessing the rest of the curriculum, ensuring pupils catch up on their reading is essential. Accurate assessment to identify next steps is vital. Making progress depends on quality-first teaching: this guidance articulates what the excellent teaching of reading looks like. Reading also offers important emotional benefits, enabling pupils, through listening to and talking about stories, to talk about their ideas and feelings and to lose themselves in books.

Reading framework 2021 resources

Resources to help you deliver the 2021 Reading Framework

Here at Mrs Mactivity we have a range of resources designed to help you delivery the new Reading Framework, including this handy Reading Framework 2021 guide that you can download. We also have a very useful summary of the key points of the reading framework that would work brilliantly for a staff meeting.

We also have a very handy resource pack full of resources to support the DfE Reading Framework that includes: 

  • audits
  • prompts
  • reading bookmarks for parents, to support the framework
  • checklists
Reading framework bookmarks

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