Moving to a DfE-validated Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) Programme

What is the guidance around Letters and Sounds?

The DfE have recently announced that the 2007 Letters and Sounds Handbook is not a full Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) programme. It does not provide the support, guidance, resources or training needed to meet the requirements of a systematic and rigorous approach to the teaching of phonics.

What does this mean for your school?

You do not have to stop using Letters and Sounds 2007.

It is not mandatory that schools follow a programme from the validated list. There is no need to change approach if your school uses its own approach based around Letters and Sounds 2007 which:

  • includes appropriate resources
  • has matched decodable readers
  • has high-quality staff training
  • is systematic and rigorous.

The only exception to this is if you’re receiving support from an English Hub, in which case you must follow a programme from the validated list. Ofsted do not have a preferred programme or approach. What’s important is that schools take an approach that is:

  • rigorous
  • systematic
  • used with fidelity.

How can you tell which Systematic Synthetic Phonics programme is right for your school?

If your school decides they do want to follow an SSP from the DfE’s list of validated programmes, the first step is to do your research and find the right programme for your school.

Not every programme is right for every school, and you will need to think carefully about the following:

  • What budget is available?
  • What staff resourcing is available for the teaching of phonics?
  • What decodable readers do you already have available in school?
  • Would you prefer to stick closely to the Letters and Sounds 2007 progression?
  • Would whole-class or group teaching work best for your school?

You don’t have to move to a new SSP at the beginning of the school year. It is possible to make this transition at any point in the school year.

Primary school pupils learning phonics in the classroom

How to get started with your school’s new Systematic Synthetic Phonics programme

When you’ve decided on the right programme for your school, it is important to follow these steps:

  1. Ensure that all staff (teachers and teaching assistants) involved in the teaching of phonics have completed the training before any teaching begins.  
  2. Complete a baseline assessment to assess where all children are in the class.
  3. Review the phonics progression of the programme you are moving to. Then start at the point that the majority of your class are working at.
  4. Spend some time initially using the resources provided with your new programme to review the learning completed so far. This will help provide essential review and consolidation for the children. It will also help to familiarise children with the new resources and routines.

It is possible to move from streamed/group teaching to a whole-class approach to teaching phonics. After completing the baseline assessment, you can provide targeted intervention or keep-up support to the children who need it. Then, when they’re ready, you can move them up to the same point as the rest of the class.


The most important things to ensure when you are moving to a new Systematic Synthetic Phonics programme are:

  • consistency of approach
  • fidelity to the programme from the very beginning.  

All staff should be following a consistent structure to all phonics lessons. They should also ensure consistent use of language when teaching the programme.

To ensure complete fidelity to your new SSP programme, it’s important that all staff complete the training provided and that the core resources provided to support the programme are purchased and used as advised.

Moving to a DfE-validated programme doesn’t have to be daunting. As long as you choose the right programme for your school and follow it with consistency and fidelity, you won’t go wrong.

Your local Oxford Educational Consultant can support you in deciding which programme is right for your school. If you want to adopt a full SSP programme from the validated list and have previously been following the Letters and Sounds progression, Essential Letters and Sounds (ELS) aims to make this transition as easy as possible. ELS follows the L&S 2007 progression and provides everything needed in a small number of resources without the need to spend lots of time reading lesson plans.

Find out more about ELS on this web page.

Essential Letters and Sounds