Council aims to narrow gap with 'fun phonics'

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Oxfordshire early years providers are being offered free 'letters and sounds’ training after EYFS Profile scores revealed the county’s most disadvantaged children were getting left behind.

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Old Station nursery

The town hall early years team is hoping the ‘Phonics, sounds like fun’ programme will improve language outcomes after it identified a ‘significant’ attainment gap compared to the rest of England.

Work is underway to narrow the gap between those children receiving, and not receiving, free school meals. In Oxfordshire the gap is 23 per cent, compared to an 18 per cent national average.

The workshops are available to all private and maintained settings and also childminders, but only those with ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ ratings from Ofsted, will receive the service free of charge.

Chris Malone, strategic lead for education quality at Oxfordshire County Council, said, ‘It’s really significant for us.

‘There’s less funding now than there was, therefore it’s even more important to direct the funding we do have, into areas that make a difference to outcomes for children.

‘We need to be really sure when we’re investing money that it’s going to make a difference, and we can see that children on Pupil Premium are underperforming at the end of reception.

‘Our data is telling us that and we’re using it to try and direct the funding to try to ensure that doesn’t happen in future.’

The half-day sessions, part of the council’s ‘Step into Training’ scheme for early years, can be booked online.

The events are being held in venues across the county and the first, which took place last week, was fully booked. Some settings are also buying in whole-team training.

Julie Edwards, early years lead officer, said, ‘We’ll keep running the service across the county while people want them.’

The team is keen for the programme not to be tarred with the ‘phonics’ brush - the more formal approach taught in schools. The courses, drawn up with support from the Oxfordshire Early Years Board, teach the value of early ‘phonological awareness’ through play-based learning.

old-station-2Sarah Steel, who chairs the board and is managing director of the Old Station Nursery group, described children building their knowledge through activities such as ‘listening walks’, ‘sound bingo’, and singing.

She said, ‘This is nothing radical or new, but letters and sounds isn’t part of the EYFS. So settings may not be doing it, or may be doing it differently.

‘Level 2 and 3 nursery nurses won’t have had that training so they will really benefit.

‘Let’s not beat the schools up for not doing it well. We know the early years gives the best start for these kinds of skills.

‘I think speech and language problems are greater than ever now and that’s something that good phonological awareness can address.

‘The EY Board are delighted to support the local authority team in trying to tackle narrowing the gap in Oxfordshire and will be monitoring the phonics project closely to see how effective it is.’

  • Places on the course can be booked here
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