English is at the heart of our curriculum, as it is through our use of English that we communicate and connect. Spoken language, stories and written texts lie at the centre of our culture, helping us to understand and influence the world around us.
Reading and writing ‘float on a sea of talk’: we place great emphasis on developing confident, articulate speakers who can listen to and understand others. Developing a wide vocabulary is a key element of this. When we plan our teaching we are conscious of the new words, phrases and concepts that children need in order to really understand a new topic, and be able to explain their learning. Our lessons in all subjects are designed to support children’s speaking and listening skills by including opportunities for discussion, debate, explanation and presentation to an audience.
Our planning ensures that we cover all the elements of the National Curriculum for English.
We are passionate about developing a love of reading. We approach reading in a wide range of ways, in order to ensure that no child misses out on the pleasure of books and reading.
Every class, every year, will benefit from a curriculum which is centred on high quality texts. These are used to teach the different reading skills, but also to understand others’ points of view, to expand horizons, and to be a shared experience for the class to discuss. Teachers also read a wide range of books to children in a dedicated story time every day.
We have a brilliant, newly-stocked school library, which every class visits weekly to take out their choice of book. In addition, we invest heavily in Islington’s Reading Road Map, where newly published books from a wide range of genres, including poetry, literary classics and non-fiction, are available for children to ‘check off’ over a school year. Certificates are awarded to children for their commitment to reading. We expect every child to have a ‘book on the go’.
We expect children to read at home every day for ten minutes, and children are provided with an appropriately challenging book, and a reading record, to support this. In Reception and Key Stage 1 we use books from a range of reading schemes which are carefully ‘book-banded’ to ensure steady progress. Book banded books are also used in Key Stage 2 alongside children’s choices of books. Teachers ensure children are reading appropriately challenging material to keep them interested and entertained.
For children in Reception and Key Stage 1, weekly guided reading sessions with the teacher focus on practising early reading skills and comprehension of carefully chosen texts.This is supplemented by shared and modelled reading, where the teacher demonstrates key strategies and explains their thinking about vocabulary, author’s intent, and the purpose and meaning of the texts.
In Key Stage 2, children have a daily whole-class reading lesson, focusing on skills such as retrieval of information, summarising, expanding vocabulary, and explaining their understanding of the text. Additional support with reading is provided for those children who need it.
We regularly read stories in assembly; we contact authors for visits, input and conversations about their books, and World Book Day is always a highlight of our year!
Every year we will hold an ‘open classroom’ event where parents can come into classrooms for a reading lesson, learning the strategies of effective readers and sharing the pleasure of reading alongside their children.
Writing is about communicating, and children are born communicators. We encourage even our youngest children in EYFS to engage in purposeful writing – writing letters, making cards, lists and notices, and telling stories which are scribed (written down) by adults until the children are ready to take over the task of writing for themselves.
In Early Years and Key Stage 1, our play-based provision ensures that children use their developing writing skills for a huge range of purposes linked to the things that motivate and interest them: making information books about dinosaurs; writing instructions for models made in woodwork, or recipes that they have followed and adapted; letters, notes, lists, poems. We find that, when children are not ‘made’ to write, they want to write more. We teach young children correct letter formation and handwriting from the very beginning, moving on to important skills like using ‘finger spaces’, re-reading for sense, as well as editing and correcting. They then apply these skills in their freely-chosen writing, as well as in adult-led writing tasks.
In all year groups, high-quality texts are used to stimulate children’s independent writing. Over their time at school children will write a range of fiction and non-fiction text types. Writing doesn’t just happen in English lessons; our topic-based curriculum means that children are writing purposefully in all subjects – newspaper reports on Egyptian gods, recounts of a field trip, explanations of Chinese New Year, letters persuading supermarkets to ban plastic bags, or poems about a favourite work of art. Every unit of work is carefully planned to teach the necessary writing skills, and children will always ‘publish’ their work at the end of a unit. We encourage children to read their work aloud to their peers, and to work with a partner to improve their writing.
We work with the Ministry of Stories to run an after-school Story Club for selected children. This has led to children’s writing of news reports being published on the BBC History website. Teachers also receive bespoke professional development to develop exciting ideas for children’s writing from the team at MoS.
Phonics is a way of teaching reading that focuses on the sounds in different words, then linking those sounds to individual or groups of letters which represent those sounds. Children in Nursery are encouraged to develop their ‘phonemic awareness’ through listening activities, games, singing and reciting nursery rhymes. Children need to be able to hear individual sounds before they are introduced to written letters; this stage is very important, and underpins the phonics learning which begins in Reception.
Children from Reception to Year 2 will have a short daily phonics lesson based on the Department for Education’s ‘Letters and Sounds’ scheme. Lessons focus on revising known letters, teaching a new letter and its sound, practising blending letters together to make words, and segmenting aloud the words they want to write before representing those words with letters.
They are also introduced to ‘key words’ – words which are very common and which are best learnt by sight (for example: go, the, to, me, they – none of which can be ‘sounded out’ using phonics). Parents are encouraged to help children learn their key words, and to help child spot them in the books they are reading at home.
We run regular parent workshops on early reading and phonics.
Handwriting and spelling
We use Cambridge University Press’s ‘Penpals’ scheme for handwriting. Children are taught correct letter formation from the very beginning, starting with drawing and painting shapes and patterns on large sheets of paper, then using plain paper to write letters, before moving onto lined exercise books by Year 1. Handwriting is taught and practised in short sessions at least twice a week. Joining of letters starts to be taught in Year 2, and children are expected to use joined, legible writing by the Year 6.
Handwriting supports the learning of spellings, where letter joins can aid the recall of particular spelling patterns. Spelling patterns and rules are taught in a carefully sequenced programme, building on phonics knowledge developed in Key Stage 1. The lessons focus on teaching children strategies for remembering spelling patterns, working out the meaning of words with similar letter patterns, checking whether words ‘look right’, and assessing learning through mini tests and quizzes.
Grammar and punctuation
Grammar is the way that words are arranged in sentences to make meaning. At Hanover, we look at grammar in the context of texts we are reading, where we consider the impact of an author’s word choice and sentence structure. These models are used as a basis for children to adapt and modify to write their own sentences. We learn grammatical terms (for example, understanding the function of verbs, nouns, and adjectives in Key Stage 1, and conjunctions, adverbs and prepositions in Key Stage 2 ) in order to discuss and improve children’s own writing.
Punctuation is taught sequentially, and starts with identifying capital letters and full stops as demarcations of a simple sentence. As children’s ideas and ambitions become more sophisticated, they are taught to use a wider range of sentence structures and the appropriate punctuation to add emphasis, to represent speech, to create tension or humour – but always to make their writing clearer for the reader.