Enhancing reading skills in young learners

Description of the innovation

The intention of the evaluation was to investigate whether early reading skills could be further developed with the explicit teaching of sight word recognition and phonological awareness training.

Garden Fields is a large community school in St Albans. In January 2019, 5.8% of the pupils received free school meals, 20% of pupils spoke English as an additional language (EAL) and 26% of pupils had been identified with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Following assessment using PM Benchmark (a reading age test which assesses reading accuracy and comprehension) and the PhAB2 (Phonological Assessment Battery: Second Edition Primary), 37 Year 1 pupils were identified as eligible for the planned intervention. The criteria for a pupil to be part of the intervention was if they were reading at a minimum of six months below their chronological age and/or profiled with a phonological awareness deficit. They were then randomly allocated to either the intervention group or a waiting-list control group.

The intervention ran over a 10-week period. The intervention group pupils were divided into three teaching groups and each group received four 20-minute sessions a week. Each session involved the explicit teaching of common sequences (for example, days of the week), consonant blends, high frequency sight words, rhyme and the segmenting of syllables (the latter two being elements of phonological awareness).

Summary of findings

Using Cohen’s d effect size analysis on the results of the PM Benchmark there was a medium effect size of +0.4 for the pupils in the intervention. On average those pupils in the intervention group made 2.3 months more progress than the control group in reading age. The PhAB2 results were more variable, the intervention group made more progress in rhyme, fluency and digit naming, however, the control group made more progress in alliteration, blending, phoneme segmentation, picture reading and non-word reading. It should be noted that the sample size was very small and also the distribution of pupils profiling with a phonological deficit was uneven with a higher proportion in the intervention group. The evaluation shows evidence of promise that the intervention may improve the reading of Year 1 pupils with low reading age and/or poor phonological awareness.


The intervention cost £216 per pupil because staff were employed specifically for the intervention. The cost would be negligible if existing staff were used as the cost of resources is minimal.

Lead school

  • Garden Fields School, St Albans

Main findings

  • Effect size for pupil progress in reading accuracy and comprehension = +0.4


Download the protocol document