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Reading for Pleasure - The DIFFERENT Reading Framework
The Different Reading Framework

As a team of highly specialised SEN assessors, teachers, and teacher trainers, we recognise the need for innovative early screening for learning differences and tailor-made plans that centre not only on unique needs but also on unique interests. We focus on the activities children choose as 'play,' which stimulate their minds and foster a love for reading.

About Us

Innovate UK winner Emma Hartnell-Baker, former 'Outstanding' Nursery owner and Early Years OFSTED Inspector, holds a Master's Degree in Special Educational Needs and is currently pursuing doctoral research at the University of Reading. Her research explores how 'Orthographic Interference' impacts adults teaching children to read and spell in England. Together with Dr Grace Elliott, Emma has delivered PATOSS training and participated in a Special Interest Group developed by Thames Valley Police to reduce crime. They have launched Early Dyslexia Screening CIC, a not-for-profit organisation offering free screening and raising awareness of dyslexia from birth through the early years and into school.


The Challenge

According to the World Literacy Foundation, the cost of illiteracy to the global economy is estimated at USD $1.19 trillion. Research confirms that brain development in the early years of childhood shapes the adults they become, the success they achieve, and the contributions they make to the economy and society. Despite extensive research on reading, it remains a controversial subject with an overwhelming emphasis on one-size-fits-all programmes. These programmes focus on 'learning to read' with a specific method rather than fostering reading for pleasure.

Professor Teresa Cremin co-director of the Literacy and Social Justice Centre has expressed her concern that England is “in a very worrying place” when it comes to supporting reading for pleasure. According to the latest UK statistics from the National Literacy Trust (NLT), fewer than half (43 per cent) of children and young people aged 8-18 enjoy reading in their free time – the lowest figure since the survey began in 2005.  

PIRLS surveys 400,000 9- and 10-year-olds in 57 countries every five years. The latest study shows that England is “on a significant downturn,” with far fewer children reporting a love of reading compared to their international peers. Just 29 per cent of children in England said they enjoyed reading, compared with 46 per cent internationally. These numbers have been declining over time, down from previous surveys.

Reading for pleasure is associated with numerous benefits: academic, social, and emotional – including cognitive development, reading comprehension, vocabulary, and writing. Studies in the past six to eight years highlight the association between being a reader and lower levels of emotional problems and better prosocial behaviour. The International Literacy Association argues that it’s every child’s basic human right to read for pleasure. OECD research found that being a frequent reader offers more advantages than having well-educated parents, in terms of outcomes. Thus, reading for pleasure is arguably a matter of social justice, mediating the effects of gender and socioeconomic status.

Taking a 'Different' Approach 

At the heart of the work we are developing, which centres around a Different Reading Framework, we ensure that every child can learn to read by assessing their phoneme (speech sound) articulation, phonemic awareness, and working memory when they are 3. We then design their learning journey around texts that interest and are relevant to them as a natural transition from Phonemic Awareness Mastery (PAM) activities. They do not need to be 'verbal' or able to hold pencils and will not follow the teaching sequence they will be exposed to in Reception. This approach contrasts with KS1, where teachers are instructed to give children books aligned only with the synthetic phonics programme scope and sequence. The texts they are given to decode, and the books that may be read to them, are very different in school.

Emma Hartnell-Baker, herself neurodivergent and an avid reader as a child, has developed a method to focus not only on each child’s needs but also on what will engage them. Her ground-breaking technology makes all text 'decodable' to the child, regardless of their phonics knowledge. Innovate UK has funded technology enabling children to type in 'Phonemies' (visual representations for speech sounds as fun monster characters) and see the written word. The 'speech to print' and 'print to speech' capabilities allow us to focus on both reading and writing for pleasure, even at a very young age. Being able to explore texts they are interested in, as an active 'code mapper' rather than relying on being read to, also supports their speech and language skills.

Most children acquire much of their native language with relative ease through little more than exposure to an engaging, active speech community during their first years of life. However, many children come from impoverished linguistic environments with limited pre-school exposure to the kinds of verbal interactions and language play activities that promote the development of more advanced language skills, such as the ability to deal with the more formal academic language used in classrooms. Learning to read requires the full set of linguistic skills involved in understanding spoken language.

Emma Hartnell-Baker advocates for the rights of children as readers to take precedence over the preferences of teachers or parents, however - with a decade of experience supporting whole school literacy improvement in Australia, she recognises the challenges teachers face. Most have no choice but to teach using programmes that are often at odds with the unique needs and interests of their students. Recognising the challenges from a classroom management perspective and existing policies, The DIFFERENT Reading Framework is designed for children who have not yet started school. 

Our Vision

We have ambitious plans to roll out the first SAI Space in 2025 and screen local 3-year-olds for learning differences, use that data to plan unique and flexible learning journeys, and follow up with screening before starting school to assess impact and offer ongoing support. Grant funding will enable Emma Hartnell-Baker to run a pilot screening children in a local area, tracking their enjoyment and reading journey, and setting up community screening centres and eventually a central Early Learning Differences Centre. This centre will offer training on a larger scale for forward-thinking early years providers who wish to embed a 'teaching in the way they want to learn' philosophy and help build the vision for SAI Spaces across the country. This will help to send more children to school with the phonemic awareness, speech and language skills needed to read and write, and also create SAI spaces primary schools so that support is consistent, independent and on-going.      

Within the pilot, Emma will also support autistic children aged 7-9 who are not yet reading for pleasure, demonstrating the approach's effectiveness at any stage, and necessity for SAI spaces everywhere. The Innovate UK technology was initially designed specifically for non-speaking autistic children in the early years but has exceeded our expectations with regard to its capabilities and reach.

As part of the pilot, we will either fund space through grant funding or seek partnerships with local nurseries or schools keen to embrace early intervention and play-based learning, 'different' thinking and proactively embrace neurodiversity.

Interested in partnering with this bold initiative? We are keen to network with others who embrace personalised learning and recognise the importance of increasing the number of children who read for pleasure. We aim to develop the technology so that children can explore the connection between spoken and written language even where there is no electricity, internet, or teachers. It is our belief that most children can learn to read in English, with good phonemic awareness, if they are engaged with the content and curious.

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