THRASS at Dawn House School


I CAN’s Dawn House School is an ‘outstanding’ (Ofsted 2015) specialist school for children and young people aged five to 19 with severe and complex speech, language and communication difficulties including those with Asperger’s Syndrome.

The majority of pupils at Dawn House School have difficulty with some aspect of reading or writing. This could be difficulties with reading accuracy, comprehension, spelling or written narrative. Because of these difficulties and earlier failure, many pupils had a negative attitude towards reading and writing.

It was not surprising, therefore, when tracking of pupil progress identified that students in both primary and secondary departments would benefit from additional support in developing literacy skills and as a consequence it was decided to use the pupil premium funds for a project to train staff in delivering a literacy intervention; by doing so we could ensure all students eligible for PPF (n=7) would benefit and that the initiative would be sustainable in the long term.

The approach we chose was THRASSTeaching Handwriting, Reading And Spelling Skills. THRASS is a structured, multi-sensory approach to teaching reading and spelling with a focus on engaging all pupils.  It has been shown to be effective across the primary and secondary age range. It has been used with children with language difficulties but, there is limited existing evidence of impact for this group. This project provided the opportunity to build on the evidence base.


  • THRASS stands for ‘Teaching Handwriting, Reading And Spelling Skills’
  • THRASS is a whole-school phonics programme for teaching pupils of all ages and abilities using pictures and keywords.
  • THRASS uses a blend of Analytic Phonics and Synthetic Phonics to help pupils de-code new words. In Analytic Phonics, pupils analyse lists of ‘whole words’ to look at the parts (usually ‘letter sound/s’ at the beginning and end of the words) Synthetic phonics requires pupils to blend the phonemes (speech sounds) in words.
  • The THRASS programme helps pupils to recognise the spellings and sounds in words. It teaches the 44 phonemes (speech sounds) of spoken English and the 120 graphemes (spelling choices) of written English.
  • THRASS teaches learners that, basically, when spelling we change phonemes to graphemes and when reading we change graphemes to phonemes.
  • THRASS requires pupils to identify letters by name not sound so that they easily break down or blend the phonemes (sounds) of different one-letter, two-letter, three-letter or four-letter spelling choices.
  • THRASS uses a multi-sensory (visual, auditory and kinaesthetic) approach to teach meta-cognitive strategies (thinking skills) that empower learners with lifelong word-solving skills.

THRASS uses 120 keywords to help pupils say the right sounds when they read (so that the words ‘Sound Right’) and choose the right letters when they spell (so that the words ‘Look Right’) These 120 keywords are laid out on a chart that pupils use as a matter of course when they are reading and writing.

What we did

A core team of eight staff from across professional teams (teaching, speech and language therapy, teaching assistant) engaged in the THRASS training in Summer Term of 2012. Once fully trained, the core team met regularly during the Autumn Term to plan and prepare resources for the introduction of THRASS across the school. Over the course of the year the THRASS trainers also delivered regular CPD sessions to other staff members in a series of twilight sessions

A specialist literacy initiative, using THRASS was introduced across the school in January 2013. Pupils across the schools were allocated to a literacy group, with literacy sessions timetabled twice a day. This meant that each pupil in the school had 20 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon, with those in the primary department receiving more as literacy is taught at other appropriate times during the day.

In order to gauge the impact of the initiative the vast majority of pupils were tested for reading and spelling ability during December 2012. The tests used were the Diagnostic Reading Analysis (DRA) and Vernon Graded Word Spelling Test. The test results were used to inform groupings across Key Stages 3 and 4 where pupils were vertically grouped by ability (Primary and FE remained as discrete groups).  The results were recorded as reading and spelling ages. Although the groups were predominantly based on these results the social needs of each pupil were also taken into account when deciding on final groupings.  A small number of pupils were not tested due to their anxiety or inability to comply in test situations.

All groups were subject to the first level of intervention to improve literacy which has been differentiated for the needs of the groups. In Key Stages 3 & 4 each of the  groups were assigned to a multi-disciplinary team of teachers, speech and language therapists and learning support assistants working in collaboration with input from the occupational therapy team when appropriate to the learner’s needs.  In most cases the lead professional was THRASS trained so that the techniques of the THRASS programme could be implemented as required to the group dependent upon the literacy needs and abilities of the pupils.  It was found that the THRASS approach was most appropriate for the younger, lower ability groups although it could be utilised in some form with the older and more able pupils.

The THRASS programme is taught to the groups using differentiated resources and teaching methods to allow for the individual pupil’s preferred learning style.  All classrooms have the THRASS charts displayed so that the programme can be integrated and reinforced across the curriculum.

The second level of intervention was identified for those pupils whose levels of literacy were particularly low due to specific issues e.g. dyslexia.  There is an ongoing programme of dyslexia screening for those pupils to whom staff feel literacy is of particular difficulty.  These pupils are put onto an individualized literacy programme e.g. Acceleread – Accelewrite; Toe-by-Toe; Touch Typing and Spelling Skills (TTASS)


All of the pupils were tested again in June / July 2013 in order to identify the impact of the literacy programme on their reading and spelling.


On average, pupils made 14.9 months progress in reading over the six month period, with 41% of pupils making more than a year’s progress, and 21% more than two years.


Pupils made an average of 8.2 months progress in spelling over a six month period, with 24% making more than a year’s progress.

Additional Impacts

Discussion in the staff team identified additional impacts. All staff identified an increase in learner self-esteem, enthusiasm and confidence. They also identified that by sharing of skills and resources and through regular meetings of Literacy Group Co-ordinators that staff felt more confident in their skill and knowledge in supporting pupils with significant literacy difficulties.

What next?

The model of intervention was so successful that the twice daily sessions were retained, one of which continued with the literacy interventions and one on the next years’ focus which was numeracy, in similar ability ordered groups, delivered by a range of school staff.

For more information contact Jenny McConnell, Vice Principal: