‘Learning to Read; Reading to Learn’


Our approach to the teaching of reading is an all-through vision as we understand that this is the bedrock to education. Reading, and the teaching of reading, is highly complex and requires a personalised approach because progress is not linear. Each individual student will move from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn’ at vastly different points and we are well equipped to teach and to support them on this journey, not only for academic purposes but for life. 


The Larch

A child’s reading journey begins with ‘learning to read’ and moves into ‘reading to learn’ (Oxford Owl)

One thing we have been sure about for some time is that reading, and learning to read, is complex. Some literature, schemes or programmes attempt to paint a simple picture of what is required (perhaps with the intention of more easily selling their product!) but what they often do is teach one aspect or too few, perhaps separately, of what is required in a child’s reading journey. As set out in the blog ‘What do we mean when we talk about reading (and writing) fluency?’, what is needed is to attend to the increasingly interwoven threads of reading as the developing reader progresses towards proficient, integrated reading. Our aim as a school is to identify all of those threads, and then consider the sequencing, progression and interweaving of them, such that children master and can apply all aspects of what it is to be an expert reader: for learning, for life and for enjoyment.

The simple view of reading is organised along two continuums: language comprehension processes and word recognition skills. Both have to be at play for reading to happen.  It is a multiplicative model. If one aspect is missing, the effect of multiplying by 0 holds true. The act of reading has to include both the act of decoding words and understanding what the words, phrases, clauses, sentences (or lines and verses, say) come together to mean.

The idea of decoding and comprehension is not new to schools. But our aim at Simon Balle is to consider in much more depth how both are taught and to what extent the component parts of each have been learned (by which I mean understood and applied in all reading in all subjects).

After much deliberation we have decided to base our ten strands of the art of teaching reading at Simon Balle on Kate Cain’s model (Lancaster University).

Of this model, Galway (2019) writes that this representation is carefully constructed to work up from the ground floor with the implicit understanding that each successive storey rests on those lower down. Two things strike me: firstly, that the pinnacle of reading will only be achieved where teaching is secure in all other areas; secondly, and I hope I am not pushing the analogy too far here, that we are going to need to ascend and descend (on repeat!) a lot of stairs to support reading mastery over time giving due attention to each part (and recognising that the emphasis needed for teaching which part and when will differ from cohort to cohort, group to group, and child by child).

It is essential for us at Simon Balle that, in all areas and certainly not just reading, home and school work in close partnership. And yet, it seems to me that reading might be one of the most important areas in which it is essential for this partnership to work well.

Though the process of teaching and learning to read is complex, our aim is simple. We aspire for all of our children to achieve fluent reading as quickly as possible, because where this reading is efficient, readers can focus on the meaning of what they are reading. It is this that has the potential to open every possible door in their future learning and in life.

We are indebted to the English team at Herts for Learning, whose blog ‘What do we mean when we talk about reading (and writing) fluency?’, published 2 October 2019, has inspired us as a staff, invited us to read and research further, and shaped our thinking around the teaching of reading in the Larch at Simon Balle.

How do we teach reading at Simon Balle? Our ten strands. 

In January 2024 we received recognition from the Minister for Schools for outstanding achievement in the 2023 Phonics Screening Check. You can read the full text of the letter here: Letter from the Minister for Schools


Secondary Phase 

Literacy underpins learning across all subjects in secondary school as students who cannot read, write and communicate effectively are unlikely to access the curriculum and engage fully in school life. This goes beyond the academic in that low literacy levels are also directly linked to outcomes in later life. As EEF note, young people who leave school without good literacy skills are held back at every stage of life; their outcomes are poorer on almost every measure, from health and wellbeing, to employment and finance. So there is a moral imperative to address this issue as part of our vision of ‘tomorrow’s citizens today’. We know it lies with every member of staff to address this area and to see themselves as teachers of literacy and levers of support to address the ‘literacy gap’. Therefore our approach to Literacy for Learning at SBAS seeks to tackle this area through a robust and developed strategy to improve reading, writing and oracy



Reading is critical to school life and indeed life in general. However, the realities and complexities of what it means to read, as well as the intrinsic nature of being capable of doing, are not always understood. Our whole-school reading approach addresses these misconceptions and ensures that, in a research-based manner, we improve the reading experience and ability of all students so they can be successful academically at SBAS. In fact our purpose is driven by more than that as we seek to buck the national trend that sees approximately 20% of 15-year-olds not attain a level of reading performance that allows them to participate effectively in life.

Our reading for learning approach in underpinned by five key principles:

    • Disciplinary literacy 
      • We focus on the value of ensuring every teachers of every subject understands how to  teach their students how to read, write and communicate effectively within the specific demands of their subject.
    • Reading fluency 
  • We use the HfL Reading Fluency programme to deploy the strategies of modelled expressive reading, echo reading, repeated re-reading, skilled questioning, challenging text selection and modelling comprehension skills as part of our intervention strategy with select students.
    • Intervention 
  • There are a wide range of literacy problems that secondary-age students might have, related to speech, language and communication, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary and reading comprehension. In addition, students may have wider difficulties, for example, related to eyesight. We seek to ensure interventions are well-matched to reliable data so specific difficulties are tackled.
    • Vocabulary 
  • The move to secondary school will see a greater emphasis on students developing a grasp of the specialised and technical vocabulary needed to access the curriculum in each subject. To do so requires explicit teaching via proven methods such as etymology and the Frayer method.
    • Engagement in a reading culture
  • Whether it is through our literary canon, Accelerated Reader or DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) in Form time, developing a love of reading is an intrinsic part of our ethos and approach at Simon Balle.



Research has long demonstrated the critical role of talk in learning and the need to support students to develop and adapt their spoken language to specific situations while celebrating their own heritage, accent and community. Our oracy curriculum will seek to include a range of opportunities for different kinds of talk linked to four strands of skills:

Cognitive - exploratory talk as pedagogy, a way of thinking and a way of producing better thinking.

Social and emotional - enabling students to ‘find their voice’ which is essential to confidence and future participation.

Physical - developing in aspects of oracy such as tone, pitch, facial expression, gesture, posture and eye contact. 

Linguistic - building on the reading strategy and linked to vocabulary development. 



Writing is the third and final strand of our literacy strategy. It is intrinsically linked to reading and oracy and not only helps students master new material, but it also serves as a method for expression, reflection and building unity and relationships. Our approach is one where we know writing must be taught and not caught with explicit instructions, leaning on meta-cogntive skills, from sentence construction with purpose through to composing essays.