Image by Ed Robertson


What is Synthetic Phonics?

Written language can be viewed as a code or cipher that we need to know, understand and work with when reading and spelling.

Synthetic phonics teaches pupils the correspondence between letters and sounds, to read words by blending the sounds together and to spell words by segmenting or identifying the individual sounds in a word and then writing the matching letter or letter combination.

What is Linguistic Phonics?

Linguistic phonics is synthetic phonics but with a subtle difference. Rather than teaching letters and have the pupil learn the matching sound, linguistic phonics starts with the spoken word and all its component sounds and then teaches the child all the letters and combinations of letters that can represent the sound.

For example, let’s consider the sound /ow/ as in the word ‘down’. The sound /ow/ can be represented by the following combinations of letters:  ow  ou  ough, in the words ‘town’, ‘found’ and ‘drought’.

Is the phonic approach to reading and spelling suitable for pupils with SEN?

For pupils with SEN, their specific profile of difficulties make the process of learning to read and spell more challenging, with difficulties in processing sounds (phonemic skills) having the greatest impact.

Research evidence tells us that all pupils benefit from a highly structured, systematic synthetic phonics programme.  The elegant simplicity of the linguistic approach is easiest for pupils with SEN to understand and access, including those with complex needs such as Down Syndrome, autism, dyslexia and specific language impairment.

How will I know where to start my pupils on the programme?

There is a suite of assessment materials (criterion referenced) available from the Phonics for SEN TES Shop, including tests for:

  • blending,

  • segmenting,

  • sound to letter / letter combination correspondence

  • letter / letter combination to sound correspondence

  • reading high frequency words

  • spelling high frequency words

Adapted versions of the tests are available for use with non-verbal pupils.

The table in the gallery below helps you to decide on placement and starting point.

Is there a way of tracking pupil progress?

A simple Excel tracker tool is available from Phonics for SEN's TES Shop.

This is easy to use and enables progress to be recorded, quantified and tracked over time.

Phonics for SEN is now included in the Phonics Tracker online tool. Phonics Tracker records performance on phonics tasks and tracks progress through the programme towards reading competence.

For more information take a look at the Phonics Tracker website:

How fast will pupils work through the programme?

The speed at which pupils with SEN become confident readers and writers may be slower than their peers. They require much exposure to activities that give them lots and lots of experience of working with sounds, letters / letter combinations and words, words on their own, in sentences and in text. This is sometimes described as overlearning. The large number of resources and activities within the programme provide many opportunities for this to happen in lessons.

Pupils can work through the programme at their own pace with each step of progress taking them closer to reading and spelling competence.

Pupils with additional barriers to access and learning such as pupils with physical disabilities or who are non- or pre-verbal require adaptations to the core programme to enable access.

What age group is Phonics for SEN suitable for?

The resources within the programme are designed with pupils with SEN in mind.

They are clear and concise with a linear presentation that is easy to follow. There is consistency in use of font and simple visual strategies such as highlighting and boxing key items are used throughout. Any illustrations are present only when part of the activity itself and are not used as dressing for the page. The aim is to make the resources as distraction free as possible which supports their use by pupils with SEN. The additional benefit is that the resources are age-neutral and so can be used from age five to adult.

What about lesson planning?

An easy to use planning proforma is included in each book relating to the types of activities and thier specific number.

Learning objectives are described for each activity in the 'Working through the Programme' section in the beginning of each book.