Becoming a lifetime reader is dependent on developing a love of reading[1] and few would argue against the fact that the ability and motivation to read impacts on the life chances of all children.

For this reason, a significant amount of effort and resource is put into primary schools in the teaching of reading and the system of teaching synthetic phonics is almost universally adopted as being the most effective approach. However, the fact remains that some children are not making the progress they should be and there are stark inequalities in the attainment findings [2]  with  a 15% gap in the Phonics attainment for children on free school meals compared with their better off peers [3].  Of course, there will always be some children that do better than others, as we are not all born with the same levels of intelligence, but this isn’t an intelligence gap; it would be ludicrous to argue that those from poorer households are less intelligent, but nevertheless they are falling behind and poverty should never be used as an excuse for failure.

Every teacher recognises the children that come in to school ready to read. They can speak fluently listen attentively and engage and respond. They sit still, do well at phonics and build up a good sight vocabulary of tricky words, generally they make good, steady progress.  They usually have smart book bags that come back and forwards every day and reading records that are filled in by parents that show an interest; these children become good readers almost naturally.

Then there are those that are not ready, the ones who have a limited vocabulary, find it hard to listen and concentrate, don’t pick up phonics or key words quickly and often forget their book bag or it’s clear no one has read with them at home. Is it the fault of the parents? This is certainly the view of some teachers who sigh at the lack of the book bag coming into school, or the one that is transported to and from school without it ever being opened in the home.

In England there is a strong focus on teaching of phonics to ensure children have the skills to decode text and there are many schemes that help scaffold this learning. This ensures children are taught the skills they need and then given the books at the right level to practice their skills, develop their confidence and learn to read. This sounds sensible and is very effective practice for some, but not for all.  Some children struggle to pick up the phonic code and for them reading is often a frustrating process. These children are often fed a diet of uninspiring texts that are simplistic in their structure and lack the wonder and inspiration of beautiful, well written books. Teachers then target the children who are not doing so well with extra phonics and more practice texts, which causes frustration and boredom with the whole process.

But reading is more than decoding, children need to know the joy and pleasure reading will bring and why it is important to learn. They need to understand that they can find out about things that interest them through books and that, particularly in these days where there is an over reliance on screens, books can be a delightful experience that feeds all the senses.

Nowadays it is very common to see a structured organised approach to phonics firmly embedded in the timetable in Reception and Key Stage 1 and this has meant that reading results have definitely improved overall. No one is suggesting that we stop doing this, but this isn’t enough on its own.  Once reading becomes seen only as a ‘subject’ we miss opportunities to enrich the experience and engage children in the process and to weave it through their daily experiences.

Biscuits or Banquets looks at how to develop a positive reading culture in your school or setting so that children become eager to learn. It explores why some children struggle to learn to read and offers practical ideas on how to close the disadvantage gap.  

As a special bonus delegates attending the workshop will have access to an online module ‘Developing Speech, Language and Communication’ containing articles, research, audit tools, links to specialist websites and best practice case studies.


So why call it Biscuits or Banquets? – Come along and find out!


Maureen Hunt


[1] Sanacore, J. (2002). Struggling literacy learners benefit from lifetime literacy efforts. Reading Psychology, 23, 67-86.

[2] Save the Children, (2015)  Ready to Read, Closing the gap in early language skills so that every child can read well

[3] DfE, 2017 Phonics screening check and key stage 1 assessments