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Posts by Emma

What’s really stopping children from learning to read?

Corporate Guy is caught up in Red Tape









It’s not money, materials or our children’s ability. It’s stubbornness.

The statistic that one in five children leave school functionally illiterate is commonly quoted, and the finger of blame has been pointed in different directions. It’s a lack of funding for individual child support. It’s the huge time investment that teachers need to help each struggling child to read. It’s inferior reading materials that don’t inspire the child. It’s even been suggested that it’s the fault of the child who simply isn’t capable of reading fluently. However, in my thirty years of experience of teaching children to read I have noticed that none of those reasons are the ultimate barrier.

I have successfully taught every child in my care to learn to read, from three to 15 years of age, even those with considerable learning needs. I have done it in a fraction of the normal time taken, at a fraction of the cost, and the children are left enthused by the reading experience. So what’s the catch? Why aren’t all schools using this method?

Here’s the rub, and I believe it is the root of the literacy problems that dog Britain’s disappointing record. Brace yourself, because when I visit schools and speak to teachers or SENCOs and get to this point in my narrative, I see arms folding, lips pursing and sometimes even a flicker of fear on the faces in the room – and that’s no exaggeration. The fact is (deep breath) that I’m not using a government approved phonics method. This is enough to get me ejected from rooms, and why? There are two reasons that I find stop me from having access to children who needlessly get left behind by our failing system.

Firstly, the government directs schools to use the phonics method when teaching children to read, even if it doesn’t appear to suit 20% of children. I have brought this up with senior figures at the Department for Education and have been told that schools are free to make their own choices, and yet I have been told by several schools that they will be severely criticised if they use anything else, and there are clear written directives to use phonics. Recently one teacher told me that they didn’t want to risk providing me with testimonials. They would only talk off the record about their success at transforming children’s reading ability in a single term if I immediately promised not to identify them in any way. Why is the government more interested in the method of teaching rather than the results? This stubbornness creates a climate of fear rather than empowering teachers to do whatever is best for the child. At least if a school’s literacy statistics are poor the teacher can blame the government rather than themselves, but this does not put our children’s best interests at heart. Teachers should be celebrated for trying new things, not castigated.

Secondly, although I’ve met many truly admirable teachers, I have met teachers and SENCOs so stubborn it takes my breath away. They insist doing ‘more of the same’; forcing a phonics approach rather than something new with a child unable to read as they get further and further behind. I was once invited by the Head of Children’s Services of a London Council to contact a school that had only 40% of its children reaching the required literacy standards. I contacted the head teacher by telephone and email, offering my services for free with their most difficult students. He refused to speak to me and my emails were all ignored. I hadn’t even reached the hurdle of mentioning that my method wasn’t based on phonics! I’ve noticed that even when some people are doing things that do not work they’re unwilling to either ask for help or be open to try something new. I know I find it tough to admit when I’m doing something that isn’t working – that’s human nature. I also know that phonics works for thousands of children. But it’s heartbreaking that the children in that London school will leave school without learning to read due to the simple stubbornness of those in charge to accept some free assistance.

For years the debate has raged about the efficacy of different reading methods, and I have been caught up in that too because it’s a very emotive subject. But it’s time we all stopped stubbornly holding to one particular view and embrace whatever works for the child. We must all pull in the same direction of the end result, which is to get every one of our children to read before they leave school. In my experience that is an entirely achievable goal.

Another year and your child still can’t read?

Are you worried because your child is now in a new school year and still performs well below the level of their classmates in reading ability? I occasionally meet teachers who struggle to teach some of their children to read but insist on doing ‘more of the same’ which hasn’t worked. They refuse to try a new method, even if it is easy to administer, and this wastes precious time that demoralises the child.

Some years ago, as a ‘supply’ teacher I was given a new class of Reception children to teach for one term.

I started teaching them as I had always taught my reception classes for the previous twenty years – they learned 12 words at sight, then I gave them a book containing only those 12 words – which, of course they were able to read easily. Successive books consisted of the same words plus a few new ones, which they always read easily by the end of each book. Within a few weeks, all the children were reading to some degree – some very well.

Then the head teacher had a visit from a deputation of parents who had a child in my class and an older child in another class. They wanted to know why their youngest child could read, when their older one couldn’t.

The Reading Revival Toolkits are the latest generation of those books, which are now honed to the point where any child (with or without special needs) can learn to read in a few weeks – cheerfully, enthusiastically and with a love of reading.

Anyone can use them – there is no special teaching ability needed. So if your school isn’t succeeding to teach your child to read, there is actually something you can do quickly and easily that will produce the results you need: the Reading Revival method.

How schools could save thousands of pounds.









All schools have many demands on their money. All schools also have children who are not reaching the required level in reading skills and so need intervention programmes to remedy the situation. There are many available, most of which have an array levels and accessories that offer work on all aspects of reading in the hope that by the time the child moves up to secondary level, they will have caught up with their peers. Of course, these programmes do not come cheap, but schools will often divert precious financial resources to if the programmes achieve their aim.

And then there’s Reading Revival.

Just one toolkit will suffice to turn around all a schools’ students from non-reader to a reading age of 7 years in just one term. Impossible? We have plenty of parents and schools who have tried it and can hardly believe the results. There are no complicated workbooks or flashcards to grapple with and there’s no special training needed to use the toolkit. This is all you need to do:

  1. Learn 12 words by heart. (2 or 3 days)
  2. Sit with the child while they read the first book that consists only of those 12 words. (5 minutes)
  3. Sit with the child while they read the second book consisting of the first 12 words plus 8 new words, prompting or reminding the child where necessary. (With sessions of 5 – 10 minute per day: about 3 days.)
  4. Read each successive book, which add a few more new words to each book. (About 6 weeks to book 18)

At this stage a child will be able to read half of all the most used words in English and will have a solid reading base – even if they had zero reading skills to start with.

Then, if necessary, Toolkit 2, Books 19-36 will take a child on to complete reading fluency in a further term.

The toolkits work just as well for children with special educational needs because they are so easy for the child to understand. And the best bit for schools’ limited budgets? The toolkits only cost £60 each. Imagine turning round all your struggling readers and being able to divert all the money earmarked for that to other pressing things on your ‘to do’ list.

It can’t be done any quicker – or cheaper – than this. Just try it. You’ll be as amazed as all the other schools who are using the Reading Revival method.

Reading Revival supports Shine




Reading Revival is proud to announce that it is supporting the charity Shine with its reading toolkit. Shine is an educational charity working in Zambia to help tackle illiteracy in poverty-stricken areas.

Shine is running a free literacy school in Zambia which is teaching orphans and vulnerable children how to read and write. The school, Shine Zambia Reading Academy, is giving the gift of literacy to 150 children living in a poor urban township on the outskirts of the Zambian capital, Lusaka. These children would otherwise be out of education.  Their work is so successful that they are now planning to build four further classrooms so that they can accommodate 250 children.

Reading Revival has partnered with the charity by providing them with their Reading Revival toolkit, and it has pledged to donate a free toolkit for every 10 bought from their website where the Shine Academy is mentioned in the buying instructions.

“We are delighted to be helping this fantastic charity,” said Emma Plackett, the Director of Reading Revival. “Shine is doing a terrific job to raise the crucial literacy skills of this community and we want to donate our toolkits as another method that the teachers can use to help every child learn to love reading.”

For more information on the work of Shine click here.

A tale of two readers – why phonics is not for everyone

We’re used to phonics being the standard technique for teaching children to read these days. It’s by and large what schools rely upon, but, as with any system, it’s not for everyone.  I spoke to a mother recently who relayed an interesting contrast with her two daughters – one who thrives on phonics, and one who simply does not.

Claire spoke at length about the frustration and anxiety she experienced as her elder daughter, Sally, struggled to learn with phonics. From the early days in nursery it was noted that Sally was not engaged and often found excuses to go to the toilet or find something in her tray – anything but take part in the phonics session! Teachers all reassured Claire that in time it would start to make sense, but as Sally progressed through Reception and Year 1, her reading was no stronger and phonics was clearly becoming something of an anxiety-inducing mystery to her. “It just seemed to make no sense to her at all,” said Claire. “The lowest point was when she wouldn’t even look at a page in a book with me, such was her fear of failure”.

In the meantime, Sally’s younger sister Tara was thriving on her daily phonics sessions at school, and rapidly becoming a fluent and enthusiastic reader. “I could tell it was tough on Sally to see her little sister get by so effortlessly,” explained Claire.

By Year 2, Claire pushed the school for a dyslexia assessment for Sally and sure enough, she as diagnosed with mild dyslexia. It was a huge relief for Claire to know the source of the problem, but there was more frustration ahead. “Sadly, even though the school acknowledged the dyslexia, they did not have the capacity to help Sally read with any other technique than phonics. She gets extra reading help, but it’s still based on a system that makes no sense to her”.

It was by seeking alternative ways of supporting her daughter that Claire heard about Reading Revival and the matching and memory based learning is proving far more effective for Sally. What’s more, her heightened recognition of words and sounds and increased confidence about reading have supported her learning at school. While phonics will never be a logical or comfortable learning method for Sally, she is coping far better with it than ever before, and – we hope – will soon be as fluent and confident as her younger sister.



Light the fire; don’t put it out – the pitfalls of extra childhood tuition

This week a leading headmistress warned that mothers and fathers risk undermining their children’s natural development with excessive tuition. So how do parents help their child achieve full potential without pushing them too hard?

Although I work in the field of learning and education these days, I wasn’t the brightest child at school. I’m sure many people will join me with a pang of recognition when I disclose that my school days were spent always struggling to keep up with my friends, experiencing the daily heart sinking feeling as the class compared marks of returned homework, knowing I would rarely achieve better marks than them. I escaped from school with a tidal wave of relief and no more than an average set of qualifications.

So what were my parents doing to try and make my school days ‘the best years of my life’? My mother was a retired headmistress, so you’d be forgiven for assuming that I was subjected to hours of extra-curricular tuition to ensure I didn’t let the side down.

Private tutoring is on the increase; one study has suggested almost half of families now pay for private tutors in a bid to help children get into the best schools and universities. However, Alexia Bracewell of Longacre School in Guildford believes many parents are “setting up their children to fail” by pushing them too hard.

I did have extra tuition, in French and piano lessons, but I am grateful for these in two ways. I needed French tuition because I was in danger of failing the French GCSE that I had chosen, so it was a necessary blast of half a dozen sessions to get me through. The piano lessons were supposed to give me the chance to learn an instrument, and when I admitted that I didn’t enjoy it, the lessons stopped.

After years spent in an educational sector I believe there are two rules when choosing tuition for your child – necessity and enjoyment. Firstly: necessity. It’s good for a parent to pay for tuition if the child needs it for either the foundation in the basics of education, or to get them through an exam they don’t want to fail. If it’s necessary, pay for it but have a clear achievable goal and then halt.

Secondly, tuition may be good to help a child explore where their talents may lie (or in my case with piano, don’t lie). Tuition broadens the horizons and could help a child decide their future career path. If it stops being fun, stop the tuition. People are most skilled at their natural talents; forcing children down the path of your enjoyment is folly and wasted money.

Motivation is crucial and if parents don’t light their children’s fire for learning, extra tuition will surely extinguish the fire. Simply put, if a child is to succeed with tuition, they must be motivated to do so, either with a goal they want to achieve or the pure enjoyment of unveiling their talents. Let them fulfil their potential, not yours.



Educational toys aren’t very educational

In the January issue of Which? Magazine  it was reported that the magazine’s consumer experts believe that six hi-tech toys that market themselves as educational make claims that are overblown.

Although the manufacturers state on their websites that their products can ‘develop core skills in reading, spelling, maths, logic and creativity’ the experts found some of the claims to be vague and dressed up in pseudo-academic jargon which could potentially mislead parents. In fact, the experts thought that the toys didn’t contain enough high-quality text to have significant impact on a child’s reading.

Emma Plackett, Co-Founder at Reading Revival Ltd. believes that parents who are keen to play an proactive and positive role in their child’s development are being let down because they ultimately don’t see the results from the investment they spend in educational toys.

“These self-styled educational toys that claim to improve reading often do not teach reading in the most effective, efficient way,” she explains. “The toy should help the child to steadily build vocabulary with the most used English words, and add more words at a controlled rate whilst providing plenty of practise of words already learned. If the toy simply draws a child’s attention to random words that they may not often re-encounter, it can only claim to encourage an enjoyment of the reading activity rather than an actual proficiency.”

She also calls for a ‘plain English’ approach to make parent’s choices easier.

“Parents are being seduced by the extravagant promises of toy manufacturers and the language used in the marketing literature may be deliberately opaque,” she says. “Producers of educational aids for children have a responsibility to parents to describe the product and its benefits in such a way that a parent can make the best decision for their child.”



Teachers taking the rap for government literacy failings

As yet more depressing statistics emerge about children who can’t achieve basic standards of literacy, it’s time to give teachers the tools they need in their fight to help children achieve their potential.

I’m not a teacher, but I sympathise with them. How a teacher’s heart must sink as wave after wave of bad press threatens to engulf the job they feel passionately about, consigning the profession they joined with high hopes of making a difference to the collective rubbish bin for supposedly letting our children down.

This week, the government’s school league tables show that three-quarters of children in England who make a slow start in the “Three Rs” at primary school fail to catch up by the time they leave.

Teachers then have to suffer the mortification as well meaning charities and government initiatives ‘ride to the rescue’ to save children by taking matters in to their own hands. This demoralises the teachers and calls their abilities into question.

As the founder of a company that produces a reading toolkit created by a teacher that consistently brings a reluctant reader to a level of reading competency in a matter of a term or so that would normally take at least 18 months at school, you’d think we’d be coining it in with such a demand for our services. Sadly this is not the case, and it’s down to a crucial design element that is both the beauty of the scheme and the target of government literacy discrimination.

What’s this pivotal issue? It does not use the synthetic phonics method insisted on by the government, and you pay a price when you dare to express doubt in this hallowed area.  Last week Julia Donaldson, the Gruffalo author had the audacity to suggest that one reading method does not suit every child and found her books excluded from the government recommended reading list.

This tide of negative literacy statistics is not down to poor teaching. We are being let down by the government’s heavy handedness in freezing out methods that should be available to teachers. If teachers will join the reading book authors and bring about the astounding effects that I’ve seen many times, then perhaps the government will finally give teachers the credit they deserve.



Silencing the songbirds

Last week the government excluded the Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson’s ‘Songbirds’ book series from its list of approved texts for teaching reading, because she dared to say that not every child responds to the phonics learning method. Surely the government should be embracing every method that consistently succeeds to improve literacy skills, not punishing dissenters?

We’ve all been shocked by the statistic that a quarter of children in London leave primary school unable to read properly. We’re one of the most economically successful nations in the world with compulsory education for every child! Reading is an essential basic life skill and yet if a quarter of children are not able to read, something must be very, very wrong.

The government has ruled that schools must use the phonics method of teaching to read and although many children do not respond to this method, they still insist upon it. And a report published in July from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Education specifically calls for a multi-method literacy approach in schools.  Emma Plackett, Director at Reading Revival thinks that the government should be campaigning for literacy as a whole, not phonics.

“Our reading toolkit uses a far more simple method than phonics, and many of our customers are parents whose children are dyslexic, have special educational needs or are simply children with no other difficulty other than they are struggling with the complicated process of breaking down words in to phonetic sounds before reassembling them,” she explains.

“We are the last hope for children who can’t learn using the phonics method and we’ve succeeded where nothing else has worked. In fact, if a child has the ability to match basic patterns, we have never failed to teach every one of them to read with our toolkit.”

If Julia Donaldson, the Children’s Laureate and self professed “phonics fanatic” can see the sense in being open to a variety of methods that suit a variety of children’s needs, and if a parliamentary report agrees, then the government should be prepared to relax its rigid approach, as this is the only way that literacy will improve without leaving a large proportion of the population behind.

So much more than just a bedtime story

Many parents think that simply reading a bedtime story can help their child with reading fluency. It certainly helps with instilling a love of books, but parents could be using the time to actually teach their child to read.

A recent survey by Booktime says that 71% of parents with children aged four to six consider reading with their child to be the highlight of their day, but why not make the time even more profitable by getting your child to read to you, and learn to read in the process?

The Reading Revival toolkit is a new reading scheme that gives all the tools necessary to teach children – and, indeed, anyone else – to read in a very short time, all in one compact toolkit.  But don’t be fooled into thinking that it is a collection of bedtime stories that can be read to children.

The twelve books have a carefully structured vocabulary that starts with just twelve words and adds a few new words to each successive book so that the pupil can gradually increase the number of words they can read at sight.  By the time Book 12 has been read, then the pupil will have a solid base of most-used words in English and the confidence to go on to complete fluency.

In order to achieve this aim, each book, while telling an interesting story, contains a ‘stilted’ text because the vocabulary is restricted while the child practises vocabulary just learned, with a careful addition of managed new words.  The child has no problem with this as even the youngest child realises that the books are a tool for learning and accepts the difference between ‘normal’ stories and ‘reading book’ stories. These books are very specifically written for a purpose – and is why they are so successful.

This reading toolkit has seen success with reluctant readers and children who can’t read. In fact it has been successful where everything else has failed.

Instead of reading your child a bedtime story, get them to read a story to you. Not only will you share a special part of the day with them, but you’ll be teaching them to read, and what a rewarding experience that will be for both of you.