Meet our ambassador school-St Margaret’s Primary School in Crawley.

St Margaret’s is a mainstream primary school with a specialist support centre for physical disabilities. They offer education up to year 6.

I spoke to their assistant headteacher, who is responsible for inclusion, to chat about why they chose CodeBreakers and how the staff and children were finding the programme.

The first phase of children, who started in year 3, are now in their second year of using CodeBreakers and receiving 1:1 intervention.  There is a second phase of year 3 students who started receiving 1:2 CodeBreakers intervention this year. Each child receives 4 x 30 min sessions of direct support and a 5th session where they use the CodeBreakers PLAY online games to recap learning.

Why did they choose CodeBreakers?

As the assistant headteacher is already a trained dyslexia specialist, she very much understood the CodeBreakers concept.  They were specifically looking for a programme which would target phonemic awareness in a multisensory way, which could be delivered by TAs.

There were a number of children to support with reading and spelling who were no longer seeing progress when using RW Inc, which was the school’s whole school systematic synthetic phonics scheme.  The children had become ‘static’ and not made progress as expected in reading, despite having additional intervention.

The school had identified that students weren’t aware of the basic principles of the alphabetical code, including long and short vowels sounds,  the difference between consonants and vowels or what  consonant blends were. A larger proportion of their students didn’t know the alphabet. CodeBreakers provided all this, included in its the SSP programme and enabled the school to target this gap in student knowledge.

The assistant headteacher also felt CodeBreakers was less prescriptive than others programmes and they were able to be more flexible, particularly regarding how they planned lessons and the time they spent on each lesson. Other programmes did not focus on vowels and consonants or consonant blends and the language used to describe long and short sounds that vowels make was different and not the correct terminology. They felt in the long term this didn’t set the children up for long term support later in their education.  There were also no spelling rules given in the programmes they had been using.

Spelling rules is an are which CodeBreakers emphasises.

Staff training

Although the TA’s have not received specific CodeBreakers training, the school is very proactive and has invested significantly in training for their staff.  They feel the training they already provided on understanding the importance of phonological and phonemic awareness, alongside the importance of knowing and using the alphabet, has substantially contributed to the staff understanding the importance of the tasks within CodeBreakers.  Their assistant headteacher is also a level 5 dyslexia specialist and she also trained the TAs on how to use CodeBreakers, particularly to understand the value of each of the worksheets within the workbooks. She helped them to understand why they needed to do specific tasks, what is the focus of the task by looking at workbook activities and how they would do them with children and perhaps specific adaptations for child, i.e. enlarging print, break down into smaller tasks.  Each of the TAs also observed each other’s teaching sessions to eventually see a full cycle of a book.  She feels this has enabled the TAs to observe and reflect on each child’s development and be proactive when planning the intervention sessions.

CodeBreakers stresses the need to not dilute the programme by missing tasks.  It encourages the use of the skills of each TA delivering CodeBreakers and their knowledge of each child’s development and progress, to add to the programme and individualise intervention sessions.

The school has also provided staff with training on Dyslexia and how it impacts in the classroom so there is an understanding that this doesn’t just impact reading.   The assistant headteacher describes the school as ‘fully inclusive to meet children’s needs and learning differences’. They have dedicated and committed staff who are receptive to learning and training. The senior members of staff have been SENCos and inclusion is at the heart of the school.

Testing

St Margaret’s also chose to use an additional placement test (TOWRE 2) as skills are shown under speed and this highlighted lower-level gaps.

CodeBreakers provides a single word reading, spelling and decoding on non-words tests, free of charge. They can be used to identify the gaps in student knowledge, place students on the CodeBreakers programme and measure progress.

What changes did you make to interventions?

CodeBreakers is used for some KS2 students and those using it will no longer use RW Inc. It’s felt that the younger children who might need extra support would struggle with the level of attention and concentration needed for the lesson duration they offer with CodeBreakers and at this time don’t offer it to these children but an alternative phonological awareness programme as an initial step.  They are considering offering this to some year 2 students who have the right profile and have completed the phonological training programme but at the moment the school also needs to consider staffing and this would overlap with other intervention times.

 How are the children and staff responding to CodeBreakers?

Both the staff and children enjoy the systematic progress of a rule-based system which is cumulative and uses multi-sensory techniques. They can see both their own and the children’s skills building.  Staff like that the language is consistent and they quickly gained familiarity with the workbooks. Furthermore, it allows lots of time to rehearse and repeat experiences. Initially, staff felt the workbooks were daunting but soon became familiar with the system of the workbooks.

Due to the value of the early workbook content and recognising the children didn’t understand long and short vowels sounds or they thought the child hadn’t consolidated earlier blends, to later realise they hadn’t, they now feel it’s good practise to start all students at series 1, to secure fundamental aspects.  The children also perhaps could read words with split digraphs (magic/silent ‘e’) but didn’t understand the principles of how the sound was being changed. There have been ‘light bulb’ moments for children and staff. Sometimes staff have recognised why they needed to offer the cumulative and structured programme, as if they had not gone back, they may not have identified some aspects of child’s knowledge had not been consolidated.

CodeBreakers offers the opportunity to go back to basics without looking immature. Misconceptions can quickly be identified and the teaching point at the start of each workbook can be used to demonstrate the correct information with lots of opportunities for overlearning.

Each member of staff also stays consistently delivering CodeBreakers with each child. This enables them to reflect on their long-term development and see the child make the connections within the programme and transfer into the classroom. They also learn how the child responds to CodeBreakers and they understand where they may need further support.

Staff at the school like the programme and find it interesting, they have a desire to know more.

The children can now explain to staff why a word sounds/spelled in a certain way.  The assistant headteacher reported how children are now more confident to explain things in class and participate. They are also becoming leaders and showing other students how to do tasks, such as the alphabet arc and this is increasing their confidence. Some children also use a crib sheet developed into classroom flip book of rules, where they have consistent visuals which are used in the workbooks.  Teachers and student are always making new things to help transfer the knowledge into classroom.

We love this idea and now plan to develop this resource which will become available on our website.

Those delivering Codebreakers are now reflecting and recognising how the child changes and additional support they can provide, such as mirrors to help them look at mouth movements to articulate sounds correctly. This has led to staff asking informed questions about ways to support students.

Planning and teaching time

Now that the staff delivering CodeBreakers are familiar with the workbooks, it enables them to be highly organised and prepare in advance of the sessions. They each have a box which is used to support each lesson which contains alphabet letters, flashcards and any other extras to support the lesson, such as a mirror to help students articulate the sounds.

Alongside the optional prepared lesson plans, the regular structure and quick easy to print workbooks means there is more time to teach and less time needed for planning.

Impact on students

When considering the impact on literacy skills, the children have developed better knowledge of phonemic and phonological awareness, phonics, reading and spelling accuracy, writing and overall confidence in other subjects. They now have confidence to share knowledge with staff and other students, where they once had poor self-esteem related to read and spelling, this has now decreased. Overall, confidence and self-esteem has increased. Some children are now able to be more independent in the classroom, some require a prompt to recall a spelling rule and are then able to apply their knowledge.

Children enjoy their CodeBreakers sessions and sharing the spelling rules with their teacher. They feel like they have learned something new, picking up rules that they can then identify and apply. The assistant headteacher feels the children are far more able to use vocabulary around literacy.

What do the children enjoy the most?

They relish the online games.  The enjoy working more independently and like the familiarity of the workbooks. They like the tasks such as tracking and puzzle type activities, tasks which include building words which are kinaesthetic as often handwriting is challenging.

How have parents reacted?

Parents are able to offer support with games and learning at home. If a parent identifies their child can’t do something, the school then shares a strategy to help at home.

Budgets

Initially, St Margaret’s only subscribed to series 1 of CodeBreakers and they like that they can progressively add more series as the children progress through the programme. It’s also cheaper to renew the licence for subsequent years, so this means the children who follow on to the programme in the next years can also benefit.

At the moment it hasn’t saved on costs as they are running more than one intervention but they are hopeful that CodeBreakers will replace another intervention programme in the future.

What are the long-term plans for CodeBreakers use in the school?

The aim is to start to review more children at KS2 and establish if current systems are working for them. If so, the aim would be to use CodeBreakers wider in the school. They would initially be constrained by timetables and staffing if using more than one intervention, although they feel that all staff and children would benefit from CodeBreakers.  They also need to review how CodeBreakers will tie in with their current method of spelling delivery.