Best Practice

School-Parent Partnerships

The importance of daily intervention with struggling readers cannot be overestimated. Due to the reinforcement and over-learning built into the Toe By Toe scheme, daily sessions provide by far the best results. The process of dragging a particular sound / skill back into their consciousness after a gap of – at least – 24 hours helps to reinforce the ‘pathway’ between sight and sound. In schools, for various reasons, it can be difficult to provide more than 2 or 3 sessions for a particular student in a week. Therefore, if a school can enlist the help of parents to act as coaches when help is not available at school, there is an excellent chance of maintaining daily intervention and thus optimising progress.

Toe By Toe is written in such a way that any literate person can act as coach. Therefore, most parents should be well able to take on this role. However, it is important that the school monitors progress carefully to ensure that the course is being followed as intended. The system of ticks and dots used in Toe By Toe is so simple that monitoring is actually quite easy. We recommend that schools look at books on (say) a weekly basis to ensure that all is going well.

One school with an excellent parent-school partnership in operation is St George’s School, in Edgbaston (Birmingham). Organised by SENCO, Pia Abbott, the school enlists the help of parents who were also assigned ‘teacher mentors’. Each teacher takes on 3 to 5 families and monitors progress carefully. Tea parties, theatre trips etc have been organised to give cohesion to the scheme. Unswerving support from the Principal down has resulted in marvellously effective school-wide literacy training.

The scheme started in February 2006 and has yielded impressive results.

Some early comments from those involved:


“For the first time I feel I am doing something positive to help my child but I could not have done it on my own.”

“I’ve enjoyed the ‘get togethers’ with other parents and pupils. It’s stopped me feeling so isolated with the problem of a dyslexic child.”


“It’s been hard work and sometimes I haven’t wanted to do it after school but I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made.”

“I know I am more confident when I read in class. I don’t mind being asked quite so much.”


“What a difference in her reading. She’s become almost fluent in only five months.”

“Wow – I wish I’d found this years ago.”

Support Assistants Acting as Mentors

Toe By Toe schemes in the majority of schools in the U.K. are run by teaching assistants (T.A.s). Most teachers, of course, do not have the time to give 20 minutes of individual attention to one child so most schools use T.A.s in the role of Toe By Toe tutor. It is important that the T.A. carefully follows the instructions as laid down in the manual but – as long as they do so – no formal training is required.

The teacher / senco may prefer to monitor progress carefully the first time a T.A. takes a child through the scheme though the T.A. will very quickly see what is required. Experience helps, of course, but T.A.s soon begin to enjoy the process as they see the child’s confidence and ability begin to blossom.

One school which runs a particularly well organised – and highly successful – scheme along these lines is Lindley Junior School (rated as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted 2007-08) in Huddersfield. Organised by Ruth Shimell, SENCO at Lindley, the T.A.s work with the children for 20-minute sessions on a daily basis. There is also some support from parents at weekends but the pupils usually have five 20 minute sessions / week on weekdays. The Toe By Toe intervention at Lindley began in earnest in 2003 and impressive results are now expected for every child who goes on the scheme. In November 2007 the school reported that a total of 53 students had now finished Toe By Toe. The average time taken to finish was 17.5 months and the average improvement 37.2 months (as measured by Schonell). Truly remarkable results for struggling readers. As Ruth Shimell points out: “It is a long time since we have had any children who have left us not being able to decode at an appropriate level…” Please see the Excel File with data and chart at: Lindley Reading Age Chart

Since ANY literate person can act as a coach using Toe By Toe, some schools involve literally all the staff as literacy coaches. One such school is in Oxted in Surrey. Jill Sharp, Key Stage 4 Speech and Language Therapy Team Leader and Joint Literacy Co-ordinator, writes:

“Moor House School, a non-maintained residential special school, is nationally recognized as a school which initiated, and continues to lead, the specialist educational field for children with specific speech and language impairment. Many of our pupils have associated literacy difficulties and we are constantly researching suitable resources to help in their learning.

Toe By Toe was first introduced into school 6 years ago and trialled on just one pupil. Since then the numbers have grown and grown and we currently have around 50 pupils on the programme. We also have a small number of pupils using Stareway To Spelling and Stride Ahead.

In order to ensure that each pupil receives the individual time required we have introduced a system whereby 20 minute slots dedicated solely to literacy are allocated to classes first thing in the morning at the start of morning school. During this time the school operates an ‘all hands on deck’ approach whereby staff from all departments be it administration/office staff, domestic staff, senior management and of course the bank of classroom practitioners including teachers, speech and language therapists and special teaching assistants all provide the individual support needed within the targeted classrooms.

We have been delighted by the enthusiasm of both staff and pupils and the obvious improvement in ability and confidence demonstrated by all pupils involved.”

All hands on deck photo 1Another innovative literacy scheme is in operation at Toothill School in Bingham near Nottingham. They have been running a highly successful Toe By Toe scheme for more than a decade. Teachers, parents, teaching assistants and fellow students all act as Toe By Toe mentors. The scheme was instigated by Deputy Head, Wendy Nelson, but is now run by Senior Teaching Assistant, Sue Bird.

The scheme has now been expanded to use both Stride Ahead and Stareway To Spelling with excellent results. Keda Cowling visited the school to see the scheme in action in January 2008 and was highly impressed. Please click on the following link to see a newspaper article about the visit. Press Release: Keda’s visit to Toothill

Glebe School, West Wickham

All hands on deck photo 2Glebe School in South-East London is a large special school for students aged 11-19 recently classified as a ‘Specialist College for Cognition and Learning’. Originally, the school catered for students with moderate learning difficulties but it now meets the needs of a more complex, educationally diverse student group.

Glebe originally began using Toe By Toe on an ad hoc basis but, when Sue Barrell joined the school as an English teacher in 2003, she realised that a school-wide, systematic approach was required to help the many students at Glebe with low reading ages and that Toe By Toe would be a suitable approach. Sue had the invaluable support and encouragement of Keith Seed (Head) and Chris Collins (Asst Head) and this wider scheme was an instant success and the number of students has grown steadily. At present there are more than 40 students working through the manual. Four teaching assistants and Sue herself work with students every day during the school ‘literacy hour’ with sessions lasting 15-20 minutes on a 1:1 basis.

Sue attended two Toe By Toe training courses in the South-East and then invited Keda’s son, Frank Cowling, to provide a literacy workshop for local schools and interested parents in November 2009 which was a great success. A handful of parents now give extra Toe By Toe sessions to their children at home. Sue has also started a ‘buddy scheme’ at the school and has plans to involve more and more students over time.

Toe By Toe and vulnerable young people

Toe By Toe has a vital role in turning vulnerable young people’s lives around and is used with young offenders and in secure children’s homes. One exceptional scheme is in operation at Orchard Lodge secure children’s home in south-east London (part of the Glen Care Group). Martin Collins, Education Development Officer at Orchard Lodge, is delivering the scheme and feels that he “has set down some very positive foundations in bettering the future of the students (he has) worked with”. This is certainly borne out by the reading age statistics he has meticulously produced: R.A. audit May 07 -Aug 08

Toe By Toe by Telephone

At the age of 82, retired New Zealand teacher Keith Webster has come up with an innovative way to teach his own son how to read. Although he and his son live far apart, Keith had read about the astounding success of the scheme at Linwood College in Christchurch and decided to try ‘distance learning’ using Toe By Toe over the phone. The results have more than justified the phone bill! In addition, Keith is now teaching a 69-year old to read using Keda’s ‘Little Red Book’. Truly he’s an inspiration to us all…

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Use of Mini Teachers in assembly

Many schools select responsible Year 6 students to act as ‘Mini Teachers’ in assembly time using a Mini Teacher Assembly Book to monitor behaviour. The class teacher can then be released to provide Toe By Toe coaching to students.