Why is everyone talking about fluency? 

Why is everyone talking about fluency? First blog in the Fluency series

Phonics and comprehension have been the watch words of reading for many years but recently fluency has crept in as another reading skill we need to think about. What does it really mean and why is it important? 

Fluency is often seen as the bridge between phonics and reading comprehension. You can’t comprehend written text without being able to decode, but it is possible to be able to decode a text efficiently without comprehending it. The results of this year’s national assessments show us that,  though 79% of children can decode at the end of Year 1 (Phonics Screening Check), only 68% of children achieved the expected standard in reading comprehension in Year 2 (Key Stage 1 SATs). What’s missing? It could be fluency.  

True fluency involves several factors: speed, automaticity, accuracy and prosody. Let’s take each of those factors in turn.


You need to be reading at a certain speed in order to be able to hold onto the threads of meaning in a text and therefore achieve good comprehension. The DfE Reading Framework suggests this speed is about 90 words per minute. By this definition few children are fluent at the end of their phonics training – what they need is plenty of reading so that they can practise their new found decoding skills!  


This is the foundation of speed. Readers need to be able to recognize whole words instantly, without needing to decode the individual sounds and therefore freeing up mental space to focus on comprehension. Automaticity is acquired by repeated decoding, ie plenty of reading practice.  


To be fluent, children need to be reading with a high level of accuracy. If a text is too hard and they’re struggling to decode words accurately the flow of meaning will be disrupted and comprehension will be lost. If they know their GPCs, they may be struggling with challenges other than phonics.  


Finally true fluency involves expressive reading – intonation, pacing, emphasis –which both demonstrates and consolidates comprehension of a text. 

So, how do teachers support the development of fluency after phonics?

1. Lots of reading practice! But remember that fluency isn’t a fixed quality: a child might be able to read a simple book fluently but struggle with a more challenging one. Finding texts at the right level that offer enough challenge to sustain progress but enough support to sustain motivation is crucial. 

2. Repeated oral reading in pairs, where partners practise reading the same piece of text, coaching each other to improve, is proven to be one of the most effective ways of building fluency. 

3. Teacher modelling of prosodic reading. But make sure children can see the text and encourage them to read along if possible. If they can’t read the text simultaneously it won’t improve their reading fluency.   

How can Oxford Primary help? 

Once children have finished their SSP training, how do you support them to become independent, fluent readers? Oxford Reading Level 7 provides a gentle next step from decodable books. Gradually increasing word counts support children to build stamina and speed.  

Word Sparks are a great option to achieve this in your classroom.

Explore next in our fluency blog series:


‘What might fluency practice look like in the classroom?’, Improving Literacy in Key Stage 1 Guidance Report, Education Endowment Fund

Christopher Such ‘Five Things I Wish I’d Said About Reading Fluency’ Primary Colour blog, February 2022

The Reading Framework, Department for Education, July 2023

James Clements ‘Shared reading’, Readerful Guide, Oxford University Press, 2024

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