At Rathfern Primary School, we have an English curriculum designed to develop a sense of belonging for all of our pupils which empowers and challenges them at the same time. Our curriculum affirms the identity of pupils and equips them with powerful knowledge. We are committed to equity, social and environmental justice, using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal’s (SDGs) as curriculum drivers. The texts carefully selected for our English curriculum allow for exploration of the self and others, the SDGs and imbue our children with the cultural capital they need to reach their full capabilities.
Reading is at the heart of our curriculum as it unlocks all other curriculum areas. We believe it is integral that children are exposed to a broad range of texts, from the lauded classics, to contemporary fiction, to poetry, to subject-specific non-fiction, that will bring enjoyment and help children access the whole curriculum and texts encountered in future life.
Narrowing the vocabulary gap
There has been a wealth of educational research over recent years regarding the gap in vocabulary that many children face: this particularly effects children from lower income families and those with English as an additional language (Mandy J. Maguire, et. Al 2018). Research suggests that the challenges start early on in a child’s development and that by the age of three, there is a 30-million-word gap between children from the wealthiest and poorest families. A study by Fernald, Marchman, & Weisleder 2013 showed that the vocabulary gap is evident in toddlers: By 18 months, children in different socio-economic groups display dramatic differences in their vocabularies. Even at two years of age, the disparity in vocabulary development is significant. By the time children arrive in our schools, they are already at a disadvantage. We have a concerted and consistent approach to enriching and expanding all pupils’ vocabulary across every area of the curriculum.
Vocabulary is developed through:
- Explicit vocabulary teaching
- Incidental vocabulary learning
- Cultivating ‘word consciousness’
This enables our pupils to make rich connections to build their vocabulary schema as they progress through the school.
At Rathfern, our approach to reading gives children as much opportunity as possible to encounter varied and challenging texts. Children meet and access reading through a variety of platforms: 1:1 Reading; Guided Reading; Reading for Pleasure; Whole-Class Story Time; and Reading Across the Curriculum.
Within class, we have a strategic approach to Guided Reading and the explicit teaching of comprehension skills. In EYFS and KS1, texts are carefully chosen to promote challenge and progression. We have a team of highly skilled TAs, who we have invested in training to identify the individual strategies a child is using for reading and comprehension, therefore the staff are confident in tailoring support appropriately for the individual child. In KS2, Guided Reading is taught through a high-quality text. The sessions are differentiated to meet children’s needs and cover all the reading skills outlined in the National Curriculum, including a focus on: retrieval; inference; summarising; prediction; word meaning; analysing authors’ use of word choice; analysing authors’ bias; identifying text types and organisational features; and comparing and contrasting texts.
We have a consistent home-school reading system from Nursery to Year 6. The children have an individual reading record and are expected to read a book provided from school at home every day.
In EYFS and KS1, the children are provided with books from recommended reading schemes which follow standardised book banding to ensure progress. As the children mature and become more confident readers, they are supported and encouraged to choose books appropriate to their level.
As the children progress to KS2 they are expected to take more responsibility for their own home reading and reading record. Each child has the opportunity to read with their teacher or teaching assistant one to one at least twice a week, with key children reading five times a week.
Reading for Pleasure
In KS2, during ‘soft start’ at the beginning of every school day, children are given time to read for pleasure. These texts are chosen from class book corners and are used as part of the home-school reading system.
The children also have access to a quality, well-stocked onsite library with texts ranging from classics including traditional tales and Shakespeare, to picture books and contemporary authors, such as Benjamin Zephaniah, Malorie Blackman, Elizabeth Laird and Beverly Naidoo.
Whole-Class Story Time
Every class is read to each day by their teacher. We believe this is vital, quality time to imbue children with a love and enjoyment of reading and stories. It is also affords teachers with an important opportunity to model the prosody of language.
At Rathfern, we host regular author visits to promote reading. Our children have been lucky to hear from SF Said on his well-loved book 'Varjak Paw' and Zanib Mian on her fantastically funny and heart-warming book 'Planet Omar'.
At Rathfern, we hold termly 'Reading Cafes' open to children, parents and carers. Books are displayed beautifully and organised into different genres for attendees to browse and read. We use this opportunity to promote the importance and enjoyment of parents and carers reading with children.
Peer and Buddy Reading
At Rathfern, our classes are paired for 'Peer and Buddy Reading' across KS1 and KS2. Throughout the year, these buddy readers meet at regular intervals. The older children thrive on the opportunity to support the younger pupils with their reading and build on their own reading skills through this interaction too.
Reading Across the Curriculum
At Rathfern, we capitalise upon all opportunities to foster reading skills and expand vocabulary knowledge within our pupils. The reading of texts as a means to access the curriculum is used in all subjects, from the reading of Maths word problems to research texts in History.
At Rathfern, our writing curriculum has a clear emphasis on writing for a purpose and ensures that the children understand writing as a vital means of communication and self-expression. Across the school, our writing lessons are taught through high-quality texts which provide a link to explore one or more of the UN’s SDGs or UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) articles through relating moral questions. Teachers have a strong awareness of the importance of representation of our demographic in the texts that we choose, as well as texts that widen cultural capital, support language development and encourage use of new and challenging vocabulary.
In EYFS and KS1, we develop children’s communication and ensure that they understand the structure of a sentence when is it spoken so that they can transfer this accurately to written form. Staff provide quality interactions with an emphasis on modelling challenging language to broaden the children’s vocabulary and experience of new words. In KS1, the children acquire the punctuation skills they need to write grammatically correct sentences and advance their use of written language by using adjectives, adverbs and conjunctions to vary their sentences.
The children progress into KS2 with a solid foundation in the skills they need to develop their own sense of authorship and are ready to embrace the challenges of more sophisticated writing styles for differing audiences. They are provided with rich models of language through carefully chosen texts, which introduce them to new and challenging vocabulary in a range of contexts. The use of new vocabulary is embedded by accompanying the study of key texts with a robust discussion of contextual meaning of unfamiliar words and encouraging repetitive use of new, more sophisticated language through dialogue as well as in their writing.
Our units of writing begin with immersive, multimodal experiences that garner children’s engagement with the text. We place an importance on drama and role play throughout the English curriculum to develop children's understanding of character feelings and motives which creates more dynamic writing. After, the format or genre of writing is introduced alongside the grammar foci for the unit. Quality writing outcomes are achieved through a process of first quality teaching, children’s co-construction of the success criteria, teacher feedback and children’s editing.
Across the school, the children experience a variety of writing genres with an appropriate balance of fiction and non-fiction from different genres of narrative, to newspaper reports and biographies.
At Rathfern, we want our pupils to become fluent and effective writers; accurate spelling is a means to that end. Competent spellers need to spend less time and energy in thinking about spelling to enable them to channel their time and energy into the skills or composition, sentence structure and precise word choice.
In EYFS and KS1, we follow Little Wandle Letters and Sounds Revised for phonics and apply our phonological awareness for spelling. Incorporated into the programme are tricky words (these are words that children have to learn by sight and memory as they cannot be sounded out by using phonics). In KS2, we use a metacognitive approach with the Herts for Learning ESSENTIALspelling programme. One main spelling lesson is taught per week linked to the national spelling curriculum but this is followed up with two more spelling games lessons where key tricky, or statutory, spellings are revised.
At Rathfern, our children start by mark making in the early years and focus on letter formation in Year 1. From Year 2, after learning how to form letters correctly, our pupils are taught a style of cursive handwriting which enables fluency and efficiency.