Sharing the knowledge to improve Peterborough’s schools

Improving outcomes for all children across Peterborough is our utmost priority and as I have highlighted in previous columns, we are actively working hard to achieve this, writes Jonathan Lewis, service director for education at Peterborough City Council.

Sunday, 17th March 2019, 10:55 am
Jonathan Lewis, service director for education for in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire EMN-180519-081739009

One aspect of our early years education work which is a key focus for us is phonics, an effective method of teaching children to read and write.

Phonics is basically the decoding of letters and sounds and blending them to read and write words. It helps children to hear, identify and use different sounds that distinguish one word from another.

So in phonics, when a child is taught the sounds for the letters t, p, a and s, they can start to build up the words ‘tap’, ‘taps’, ‘pat’, ‘pats’ and ‘sat’.

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The majority of us learnt to read using sight and our recognition and understanding of words, so this is a very different approach.

At the end of Year 1 pupils complete a phonics screening check where they apply their phonics knowledge to reading single words. Some words are real words and some are not.

The reason for this is to ensure that children can apply their phonics skills to unfamiliar words that they will encounter in later years.

The approach is not without its challenges and the complexity of the English language can mean that areas such as spelling can be affected through a phonetical approach. Schools needs to support children with developing their understanding once they have developed the basics of reading.

Children who do not meet the threshold (usually 32/40 words decoded) can re-take the check at the end of Year 2.

I recently attended a ‘Phonics Matters’ conference, which was a joint initiative held with other local authorities in Cambridgeshire aimed at improving phonics outcomes.

I was honoured to open the conference and reiterated our determination to further improve standards, with a specific focus on leadership.

The conference looked at ways of overcoming perceived barriers to learning.

Examples of good practice from schools in the EKO Academy Trust in Newham in London (ranked highest in the country) were highlighted, as well as schools with good outcomes in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.

Developing the role of headteachers, phonics leaders and early years leaders was discussed as well as improving assessment and engaging parents in their children’s learning.

Everyone was in agreement that phonics plays a key role in developing a child’s love of reading, which in turn opens the way to learning in so many different areas.

The conference also focused on research by James Clements and his inspiring work titled ‘building an outstanding reading school’.

This was particularly fascinating and helped several delegates to identify new ways of teaching phonics and better monitoring of teaching and learning.

Everyone agreed that we need to continue to share best practice locally and that phonics needs to have a high status among teachers and leaders. We also need to foster a love of reading in our children as this is a lifelong gift and will create intense enjoyment.

Phonics and early years leaders are meeting again at the end of April to share the development of specific initiatives, including appointing ‘Phonics Champions’ to support schools and staff. I’ll keep you updated on our progress in future columns.

I also recently met with Nick Gibb, the schools minister, and during what was a positive discussion outlined Peterborough’s commitment to improving phonics outcomes.

Earlier this month parents whose children have applied for secondary school places for next year were given confirmation of their offer.

Once again we received an increased number of applications, in total there were 2,710 - a rise of 83 compared to the last academic year.

Of the 2,710 applications, 2,350 children were allocated a place at their first preference school representing 85.6 per cent of applications, an increase on last year’s percentage (82 per cent).

In total 97.1 per cent of children secured an offer for either their first, second or third preference schools.

Secondary school is a big milestone in a child’s life, so it was fantastic to see that a very high percentage of children were offered a place at their first preference school.

It also reflects our careful planning and investment which has meant more first preferences for parents in Peterborough.