What do I need to know? – GovernorHelp analyses the updated DfE Reading Framework – PART 1


The Department for Education just published its 147 page updated Reading Framework. The team at GovernorHelp asked our Document Chat bot to try and make sense of it, (and make it a little shorter)

We’ve decided to split this post into 3 parts as there’s still quite a lot to consume. So let’s get started with Part 1.


The updated Reading Framework was published in July 2023 by the Department for Education. The Reading Framework is a comprehensive guide designed to support schools in England in the teaching of reading from Reception to Year 9. The primary aim of the framework is to ensure that by the end of Year 6, pupils’ reading and writing are sufficiently fluent and effortless for them to manage the general demands of the curriculum in Year 7, across all subjects and not just in English.

The framework’s key objectives include:

  • Setting out the research underpinning the importance of talk, stories, and systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) in Reception, and the importance of ‘fidelity to the programme’ in phonics.
  • Supporting schools to evaluate their teaching of reading from Reception to Year 9 and to identify how to improve provision if weaknesses are found.
  • Providing practical support for high-quality teaching of SSP, fluency, and comprehension, including assessment.
  • Explaining the importance of systematic phonics teaching for older pupils who are at risk of failing to learn to read because they cannot decode well enough.
  • Supporting schools in motivating pupils to develop a love of reading.
  • Supporting schools working with parents to help their children learn to read.

The framework is based on teachers’ experiences, classroom observations, assessments, and research, as well as advice from and the contributions of experts. It also reflects the experiences of many primary and secondary schools that excel in the teaching of reading, including those in the English Hubs programme, administered by the Department for Education (DfE).

In essence, the Reading Framework is a roadmap for schools to ensure that all pupils become confident readers, able to engage with the challenges of a wider curriculum. It provides practical support and guidance for schools, initial teacher training (ITT) partnerships, specialist provision, and others, to develop their understanding of teaching reading and to give them informed and practical support.

The Importance of Reading

The Reading Framework emphasises the social, cultural, and economic importance of reading. It outlines a conceptual model of reading, which is based on teachers’ experiences, classroom observations, assessments, and research, as well as advice from and the contributions of experts. It also reflects the experiences of many primary and secondary schools that excel in the teaching of reading.

Here are some key points about the importance of reading and the conceptual model:

Why Reading Matters: Reading is not just a skill to practice, but an integral part of social, cultural, and economic life. It helps pupils become better readers and also helps them see themselves as readers, with all the benefits that this can bring. Reading lessons should create readers, not just pupils who can read.

Conceptual Model of Reading: The conceptual model of reading is about supporting pupils to construct a mental model of a specific text so that they understand its meaning. The knowledge, experience, and insight that pupils gain from reading a text alongside the teacher then support them to understand and enjoy the texts they choose to read independently.

Comprehension Monitoring: An aspect of metacognition, comprehension monitoring involves the reader in checking their mental model of the text, whether it has broken down and, if so, acting to resolve that. Good monitoring correlates closely with good comprehension. The purpose of the reading also seems to affect successful monitoring. For instance, when a situation demands high-level understanding, skilled readers can adapt their monitoring, checking their reading and understanding to make sure their mental model is as complete as it can be.

Experience Leads to Proficiency: The extent to which a reader can construct a good mental model for any given text will depend heavily on the text itself. Technical, subject-specific language or a text about a topic with which they are unfamiliar will be more challenging than a text using everyday language or dealing with a known topic. This is why reading a variety of different texts that grow in challenge is so important for pupils. As with so much in reading development, experience leads to proficiency.

Language Comprehension in Reception and Key Stage 1

Developing Talk: Young children typically gain several new words a day, acquiring vocabulary at an ‘astonishing rate’. By the time they start school, some children will have heard millions more words than others. The number of words a child has heard and can speak by the age of three is a predictor of later language development, so these early vocabulary gains are critically important. A language-rich environment is one in which adults talk with children throughout the day. The more children take part in conversations and discussion, the more they will understand once they can read and the more vocabulary and ideas they will have to draw on when they can write.

Back-and-Forth Talk Across the Curriculum: Underpinning the 2021 reforms to the Early Years Foundation Stage was the aim of improving early years outcomes for all children, particularly disadvantaged children, in the critical areas that build the foundations for later success, such as language development and literacy. This includes reducing the language gap between children from language-rich homes and those from homes in which spoken language is not as varied or as rich.

Audit: Language Comprehension: The framework provides an audit for current practice in language comprehension. This includes a clearly defined curriculum that extends children’s language and vocabulary in each of the Early Years Foundation Stage areas of learning, and in year 1 for each subject. It also includes effective procedures to identify and support children with speech, language, and communications needs.

Comprehension and Background Knowledge: Comprehension relies on integrating new information from a text with existing knowledge. The challenge a pupil faces might not always come from the properties of the text itself. It may be that the challenge is due to gaps in a pupil’s knowledge. Teachers and English leads should consider the relationship between the texts selected across the whole of the key stage and beyond to check that they are sequenced carefully and equip pupils with the ability to understand increasingly complex texts they may meet in later key stages.

Word Reading and Spelling

Principles Underpinning the Teaching of Phonics: The framework emphasises the importance of teaching phonics in a systematic way. Phonics is a method of teaching reading and spelling that focuses on the relationships between letters (graphemes) and their sounds (phonemes). The framework suggests that phonics should be taught daily in a systematic, straightforward way.

Teaching a Systematic Programme in Reception and Key Stage 1: The framework provides guidelines for teaching a systematic phonics programme in Reception and Key Stage 1. This includes teaching pupils to decode words using their knowledge of the alphabetic code and the skills of blending. Pupils should also be taught to spell words by segmenting words into their constituent phonemes and representing these by graphemes.

Assessing Word Reading: The framework discusses the importance of assessing word reading to ensure that pupils are making progress. This includes checking that pupils can decode quickly and accurately, and that they understand what they read.

Support for Struggling Readers: The framework emphasises the need for additional support for pupils who continue to struggle with decoding, including older pupils in primary and secondary schools, and pupils with identified special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). These pupils are likely to benefit most from direct reading instruction that focuses on systematic synthetic phonics.

Developing Fluency

Fluent Decoding: Fluent decoding allows us to understand what we read. Because the reader has gained accuracy and automaticity in word reading, the brain’s resources are available to focus on lifting the meaning from the page: connecting the words and sentences, and making connections across the text. As pupils gain fluency, their motivation increases: they start to enjoy reading more and are willing to do more of it.

Fluency: Speed and Accuracy: Researchers generally define and measure fluency in terms of the number of words within a passage read correctly per minute. As well as speed, accuracy also influences fluency. The national curriculum refers to pupils reading words comprising the year 1 GPCs ‘accurately and speedily’, reflecting this concept of fluency. Fluency gives the reader the choice to read at a speed that allows for comprehension and can be adapted to the purpose of the reading. Beginner readers, however, whatever their age, do not have a choice about speed because they are still engaged in decoding the words on the page.

Audit: Developing Fluency: The framework provides an audit for current practice in developing fluency. This includes teachers developing pupils’ fluency while they are learning to decode and continue to develop it once pupils can read words at a glance. Teachers understand why fluency is essential for pupils’ reading comprehension. Accurate decoding is assured before pupils move on to read a new book. Teachers explain the meaning of new words to pupils to increase their vocabulary and accelerate their reading of words at a glance. Pupils, from the earliest stage, re-read books to practice and improve their fluency.

Support for Pupils Who Need the Most Support

Keeping Up from the Start: Teachers should aim for all pupils to keep up with the school’s chosen phonics programme, ensuring teaching time is sufficient for the content to be taught within the timescales the programme sets out. Some pupils need extra support from the beginning. Assessment should identify such pupils – if not already identified – as soon as they begin to fall behind their peers.

Extra Practice: To enable pupils to keep up, they should be given extra practice, either in a small group or one-to-one, whether or not a specific reason has been found. The extra practice should be provided by a well-trained adult: teacher or teaching assistant. It should take place in a quiet place, at a regular time every day so that pupils become familiar with the routine.

Support for Struggling Readers: The framework emphasises the need for additional support for pupils who continue to struggle with decoding, including older pupils in primary and secondary schools, and pupils with identified special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). These pupils are likely to benefit most from direct reading instruction that focuses on systematic synthetic phonics.

Audit: Pupils Who Need More Support: The framework provides an audit for current practice in supporting pupils who need the most help. This includes assessments that identify pupils with poor word reading and fluency as soon as possible, sufficient support to accelerate progress, including for new arrivals and pupils who are learning English as an additional language, and well-trained staff to make sure that pupils get effective teaching to catch up rapidly.

Pupils Who Need Support to Understand What They Read: Reading is one of the principal ways we learn new things. So, a key way to improve comprehension is for pupils to read a lot and to listen to and talk about texts read to them. Some pupils, however, will struggle with comprehension. This is likely to be because they do not have sufficient vocabulary or background knowledge, although these are not the only causes of comprehension difficulties.

What Skilled Readers Can Do

About the Reading Brain: The framework explains that for most adults, reading has become automatic and effortless. We are not usually conscious of the huge amount of processing our brains do when we read. When we start to read, our eyes sweep systematically across the page, making small movements (called ‘saccades’) which allow our brain to take in about seven letters (or letter spaces) at once. As highly skilled readers, we automatically associate specific letters with specific sounds, and specific letter patterns with specific words.

What a Skilled Reader Can Do: The framework provides an example of a skilled reader, Jamal. Jamal reads widely: stories, comics, articles about ecology, space, and books about history and sport borrowed from the class library and his local public library. He reads because he is intrigued by the stories; he wants to know what happens next. He reads because he is curious about the world; the more he learns, the more he discovers that there is to learn. Jamal loves reading and is motivated to read more. Over time, Jamal has built up sufficient reading stamina to read for extended periods, often not noticing that time has passed while he has been lost in his book. He reads attentively.

The Teacher’s Modelling and Explanations: The framework emphasises the importance of teachers showing what skilled readers do to create a mental model. Reading lessons provide an opportunity to make explicit to pupils how a skilled reader makes sense of a text, works out the meaning of an unfamiliar word or incorporates a new idea into existing background knowledge. The teacher occasionally stops to think aloud, commenting as they read.

Look out for Part 2 of the GovernorHelp analysis

You can view the full DfE Reading Framework here

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