Language and Literacy

It is well established from research that children from disadvantaged backgrounds have generally heard millions of fewer words than their more advantaged peers and that there is a significant impact on the life chances of children with poor speech and a less well developed vocabulary.

The Portsmouth education strategy states:

“Some of the most disadvantaged children in Portsmouth start school months behind their peers and the gap can grow through their school years. As a result of Covid-19, the likelihood is that disadvantaged children in Portsmouth will have lost more ground in their language development, exacerbating the situation.”

Hence, language and literacy development is a high priority for our city.

The PEP has embarked on a collaborative programme which is spearheaded by the Early Language and Literacy Development Group and supported by our work with many stakeholders, for example, early years settings and providers, schools, colleges, the University of Portsmouth, the NHS, traded services and cultural partners.

The work of the group embeds shared values and builds on the strong relationships between stakeholders. The current focus of the Early Language and Literacy Development Group is to support the implementation of Priority 1 of the Portsmouth Priority Education Investment Area (PEIA) programme and contribute to the Education Strategy 2023-2026, in particular ‘Improving early communication, language and literacy is a key priority for our city which will have a significant impact on all-round achievement and progress throughout all phases of education and beyond’.

We have developed Portsmouth’s Commitment to Early Language Development, explaining how early years settings, families, the council, health service providers and other partners aim to support early language development across the city.

Education Endowment Fund guidance reports

The Education Endowment Foundation has published guidance reports with recommendations for preparing for literacy in early years and primary, through to key stage 1 and key stage 2.


Improving early communication, language and literacy development is a key priority for the city. The ability to read is a key to future success and a door which opens learning into other areas of the curriculum, beyond just the subject of English.

To support all education organisations across the PEP, from the early years to post-16, the PEP Early Language and Literacy Development Group have spearheaded the compilation of a document to provide useful information to educators called ‘A Portsmouth Approach to Reading‘. There are many sections, with links to references and resources. Additionally, other documents written by the Educational Psychology service to support the development of the teaching and learning of reading have been developed.

Reading fluency in action

Evidence shows that developing reading fluency from a young age is a sure-fire way to improve academic success across all subject areas.
Over the course of 2022-23, schools across the city recorded their reading fluency work for colleagues to demonstrate what reading fluency looks like in practice, alongside an introduction to the teaching method. In addition, pupils and teaching staff reflected on the impact of fluency on their reading, writing and oracy skills.

Supporting young people at secondary school with literacy difficulties

The Educational Psychology service worked in co-production last year with several secondary schools to understand the barriers to ensuring high literacy levels for all. Focus groups with young people were also held and parents consulted as well as consulting to understand some of the key principles involved in how best to support children with literacy difficulties in our secondary schools.

What follows is guidance from the Educational Psychology team around how best to support young people with literacy difficulties as part of quality first teaching so that every teacher feels able to be a teacher of literacy.


Phonics in 5’ is a collection of videos made in Portsmouth schools, for Portsmouth teachers, teaching assistants and parents. The videos contain descriptions of terminology and the importance of phonological skill development, along with examples of teaching strategies and children engaging with phonic activities.

To further support colleagues, the PEP Early Language and Literacy Development Group have produced a phonics and spelling mapping tool which sets out a progression of words matched to each of the 44 phonemes that children encounter in different year groups.

Local Portsmouth schools who have trialled this tool have written up their action research in the form of case studies supported by the University of Portsmouth Education Research and Innovation Centre (ERIC).

Portsmouth’s Ethnic Minority Achievement Service (EMAS) has produced a short document to support ‘How to approach phonics with pupils learning English as an additional language‘ based on research and some useful top tips.

The National Literacy Trust

The National Literacy Trust is an independent charity working with schools and communities to give disadvantaged children the literacy skills to succeed in life. To support teaching, both in the classroom and online, they have a range of free resources for early years, primary and secondary school classes.

Pompey Pirates

Pompey Pirates is a project to help improve the reading, writing and confidence of children from disadvantaged children in Portsmouth.  It is run by The Literacy Hubs which is an education charity, working with Portsmouth City Council and other partners.

The project is led by education professionals with the help of volunteers from the community. So far, the young people with the support of their one-to-one mentors, have published a books of short stories such as ‘The Adventures of Captain Rogers‘ and broadcast on Express FM about the environmental issues around palm oil. Building on the success so far, the project has expanded to a second hub Portsea Sailors based in the Historic Dockyard and is looking towards a third venue in the future.

English leader networks

To support heads of department in secondary schools and English subject leaders in primary schools, supportive local English manager networks have been set up by the Portsmouth Education Partnership.

English hubs

34 English hubs nationally were selected for their expertise in teaching reading and to support schools in their surrounding area. The hubs promote a love of reading and help schools provide excellent teaching in phonics and early language. They focus on supporting the slowest progress children in Reception and Year 1 and ensure every child is successful, regardless of background, needs or abilities.