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Phonics for Pupils with Special Educational Needs


Phonics for Pupils with Special Educational Needs

Phonics for SEN enables pupils with a range of special educational needs to find reading and spelling success and is suitable for those with specific learning difficulties, autism, moderate and severe learning difficulties, specific language impairment and complex needs.

High Quality Accessible Phonics


About the Programme

Phonics for SEN is a complete, systematic synthetic linguistic phonics programme published in seven books.

Working through the programme, the pupil:

  • learns about and understands the concepts that underpin how the written English is constructed,

  • learns, practices and masters the skills they need to work with sounds and letters, and

  • develops the knowledge they need to learn, build up and retain to be able to read and spell well.

The programme has a linguistic focus taking the pupils from sound to symbol, from spoken word to print.

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About Ann Sullivan

Ann has over 30 years experience in mainstream and specialist schools, as a primary class teacher, secondary learning support teacher, SENCO, SEN advisory teacher and SLE (Specialist Leader in Education).

She is now an educational consultant, author and trainer, specialising in literacy for pupils with special educational needs.

Ann has had a career long interest in how pupils learn to read and spell and believes that pupils require an evidence based teaching approach that is led by peer-reviewed academic research. This led her to develop and write her structured phonics programme ‘Phonics for Pupils with Special Educational Needs’ which was published by Routledge in October 2018. 


The Reading Framework - Teaching the Foundations of Literacy DfE 2021

The DfE published their core principles for initial reading instruction of pupils in mainstream schools and specialist provision and for pupils who have not yet mastered the basics and require access to an intervention programme.

I am pleased to say that Phonics for SEN fulfils all the requirements of the framework and always has done!

Phonics for SEN:

• provides pupils with the skills and knowledge they need to read and spell, teaching by direct instruction, progressing systematically with carefully structured, small and cumulative steps,

• uses instructional routines that become familiar,

• provides materials that limit distraction; are clear, linear and easy to follow; are age-neutral or age-appropriate and can be adapted further, such as being reduced to individual items,

• provides opportunities for work on vocabulary, fluency and reading comprehension

• provides multiple opportunities for overlearning (recall, retrieval, practice and application at the level of the alphabetic code, word, sentence and text).

Phonics for SEN is delivered:

• at a suitable pace for the child (acknowledging that progression through the programme will be much slower than for their typically developing peers),

• daily, with well-paced, well-planned lessons that are engaging and motivating,

• taking full account of the child’s individual strengths, weaknesses, knowledge and understanding, and profile of needs.

Phonics for SEN provides additional teaching strategies and resources for some children, such as for those who:

• have physical disabilities that affect their fine motor control for holding and manipulating objects, e.g. use of desktop manipulatives, alternative writing strategies,

• are pre- or non-verbal, e.g. use of alternative communication strategies, such as selecting their response from auditory choices anchored to visual symbols or place-markers,

• have both fine motor difficulties and are pre- or non-verbal, e.g. use of low- or high-tech eye gaze strategies.


DfE Systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) teaching programme validation 2021-22

The systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) teaching programme validation scheme was announced in April 2021. 

As part of the validation scheme the DfE have set out criteria for phonics programmes to meet. There is a clear focus on initial instruction in KS1 in mainstream schools with no mention of initial instruction in special schools or use of SSP as an intervention. An example of this is that they ask for expected progress termly in R-Y2 which is not something that fits with pupils in specialist provision. 

Having been in contact with the DfE, I am encouraged to apply with an anticipated outcome in May 2022.

The good news is that Phonics for SEN meets all 'big' criteria (systematic, structured, cumulative, fully resourced and certainly accessible for pupils with SEND). 


Phonics for SEN on Social Media