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DfE phonics changes: FAQs

DfE phonics changes: FAQs

June 10th 2021

We understand that the DfE are bringing in some changes that will impact the teaching of phonics in many schools, and the phonics books that are likely to be required in 2021/22. Our curriculum specialists have put together some FAQs to help you understand the changes and find the best books to suit your school's approach.


Q: What’s happening with Letters and Sounds?

A: One key change is the removal of the 2007 Letters and Sounds framework from the DfE's validated list of phonics programmes. The Letters and Sounds framework is not a full systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) programme, because it doesn't provide the additional support and training needed, and instead relies on schools to build their own programme of teaching and resources around it. However, many schools are already using a successful approach based on Letters and Sounds, and these schools may continue to use their existing approach if they can show it is rigorous and systematic. 


Q: What does it mean if an SSP programme has been validated by the DfE?

A: Validation by the DfE will indicate that an SSP programme meets the criteria for being an effective approach to phonics teaching that will achieve good results. Validated SSP programmes will also either have produced their own matching, fully decodable books, or will be able to recommend a range of books that matches the progression of GPCs in their programme exactly.


Q: Is it mandatory to use a DfE validated SSP?

No, it’s not mandatory. Ofsted don’t have a preferred SSP programme, but they do specify that schools must take an approach that is rigorous, systematic, used with fidelity (any resources used should exactly match the Grapheme Phoneme Correspondence (GPC) progression of their chosen SSP approach), and achieves strong results for all pupils, including the most disadvantaged.  

The only exception is where schools are receiving support from one of the DfE’s English Hubs. In this instance, schools must follow a programme from the DfE’s validated list.


Q: We use the Letters and Sounds framework – does this mean we will have to change our teaching?

A: Not necessarily. Many schools are already teaching phonics successfully using the Letters and Sounds framework, and these schools may continue to use it and the books and resources they have invested in, as long as they are taking an approach that is rigorous, systematic, used with fidelity and achieves good results. 


Q: Can we still use the books we already have in school?

This will depend on which approach your school is going to be taking, and how you are using your books currently. There are already a wide range of decodable books available for phonics and Letters and Sounds, which continue to be valid. However, the books you use should form an integral part of your wider phonics teaching, rather than being used as standalone, and they must be introduced to pupils at the right time to ensure progression.

As long as the books are introduced at the correct point in your teaching, dependent on your approach, and cover the relevant grapheme phoneme correspondences (GPCs) so that they are fully decodable for pupils, then you can continue to use your existing books. There are also a wide range of books available that are part (typically 90–95% decodable) and can be used as additional practice and shared reading texts, and to introduce new vocabulary. 


Q: Who can submit an SSP programme for validation?

A: Any school, group of schools, publisher or provider may submit a programme for validation, and there are many experts submitting tenders. We will update our website and catalogues as and when new programmes are validated in 2021/22.


Q: If we are going to change our approach, when do we need to make a decision?

A: Letters and Sounds will remain on the DfE’s list of validated SSP programmes until Spring 2022. This allows time for schools to consider their approach and, if changing, look at other (possibly new) validated SSP programmes.

The validation process is taking place between now and February 2022, with validations of programmes due to take place in June 2021, October 2021 and February 2022.

It may be best to wait to see the full list of validated programmes after this date, to ensure you are investing in the best quality materials.


Q: What should I do if my school has budget for phonics books this term, but I’m not sure how to spend it?

A: If you’re unsure about the upcoming changes and the best phonics books available to suit your approach, our team of curriculum specialists will be happy to explore your requirements with you. Get in touch on 0121 666 6646 or email us at 

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