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Pathway to Phonics

Pathway to Phonics provides opportunities for children with the most complex profiles of needs to take their first steps towards literacy.

The six step programme raises awareness of:

  • printed words and their relationship to the story, rhyme, poem or factual text being read,

  • the sounds in spoken words (phonemes),

  • the letters in written words (graphemes) and

  • the key skills of isolating and identifying sounds in spoken words, blending in relation to reading and segmenting in relation to spelling written words.


Steps 1 and 2 of the Pathway to Phonics focus on establishing the relationship between the printed and spoken words and raises awareness of sounds and letters. Steps 3-6 of the Pathway to Phonics focus on developing phonemic awareness in the context of letters and words.


The activities in Pathway to Phonics can be naturally incorporated into an existing sensory, pre-formal curriculum.

When the child is able, they can move on to the Phonics for SEN programme, a systematic, synthetic phonics programme taught semi-formally or formally, as appropriate.

The new Pathway to Phonics programme is available worldwide on Amazon.  

Pathway to Phonics Pilot Study

Some children who have a complex profile of needs are unable to access formal or semi-formal instruction for any aspect of the curriculum and are taught a pre-formal, sensory curriculum. This study examines the effectiveness of a new programme which integrates key aspects of literacy instruction into this type of curriculum.

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All children who took part in this pilot have severe and complex needs, indeed these could be described as ‘profound’, although there is much debate about the use of these terms amongst parents and professionals.


Prior to inclusion in the project, the children had not received any form of structured literacy instruction, although they had been taught a pre-formal, sensory curriculum in the context of a rich language environment that included rhymes and oral stories.

64% of the pupils made significant progress, as measured on improvements on tests administered before and after the programme delivery. The remaining pupils were acknowledged by their teachers to have the most profound and complex needs. Even so, 5 pupils made progress, as measured by movement from one step to the next. 

The results tell us that:

- some children with complex needs can learn some key aspects of literacy: an awareness of the nature of print, a basic understanding of the alphabetic principle, knowledge of some key sounds and their relationship to letters, and phonemic awareness in the context of letters and words, if instruction is made accessible to them;

- this can be achieved by incorporating simple activities into a pre-formal, sensory curriculum;

- more children can access key aspects of the foundations of literacy than perhaps previously thought.

With thanks to the children, staff and families of the Abbey Hill Academy, Knowsley Central School and Northern Counties School who took part in the study.

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