Early Reading: "Fantastic Phonics" program

Knowledge Circle Practice Profiles


Practice focus

The focus of this promising practice is on the capacity of the program to deliver literacy and numeracy education to children and young people that can be adapted for use across a wide range of contexts in safe and non-stigmatising settings.

Delivered by

Early Reading Company: A private organisation.

The information provided for this Promising Practice Profile was supplied by the Director of the Early Reading Company.

Service type

Early Reading delivers a range of programs and materials for teachers, families at home, speech pathologists, non-English speaking families and for children who experience intellectual or severe learning disabilities. The aim is to improve literacy and numeracy outcomes for preschool and early school children and for children with specific learning needs.

The Early Reading programs are not designed specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. However, some of the materials have been adapted for use by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders after consultation with Aboriginal Elders.


The program is delivered world-wide and across Australia in various regional and city areas.


The Early Reading Program is a learn-to-read program that is used by 252 Australian schools to approximately 1000 users, including Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island children. "Fantastic Phonics” is Early Reading's flagship program that is delivered around the world to countries that include Liberia, Rwanda, Southern Sudan and the programs are currently being developed in South Africa, India, Pakistan and the USA.

Four additional books have been added to Early Reading's Fantastic Phonics program for specific use by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their parents.

Early Reading deliver a range of other programs to supplement Fantastic Phonics. These Include:

  • the "English as a Second Language" program for use in multi-language communities, developing communities, and in areas of economic disadvantage in First World countries;
  • the "Remedial Reading" program that is delivered in schools to supplement existing remedial programs; and,
  • the "Autism and Intellectual Disability" program that is tailored for delivery to children with a disability.

Early Reading is designed to provide low cost printable materials for families and schools in areas of disadvantage. At a low cost, each child can receive up to 60 reading books for each year of the children's development. Early Reading continues to develop a range of programs based around:

  • downloadable, printable phonics literacy programs which are adapted for cultures;
  • video literacy as an introduction for pre-school children into the reading program; and,
  • pre-reading programs for indigenous pre-school children.

The Early Reading programs are provided free of charge to charities, aid agencies and schools in disadvantage. No funding is received for the programs delivered in Liberia, Rwanda and Southern Sudan.

In Australia, four books that incorporate Indigenous storylines, artwork, characters and health messages were funded by the Aboriginal Literacy Foundation.


MOST promising aspect

The most promising aspect of the Early Reading Program, and particularly the Fantastic Phonics Program, is the ability for them to be adapted readily to the specific cultural imperatives of each user group. The four books that were tailored specifically for Indigenous children demonstrates the adaptability of the materials.

Other promising aspects

The research reflects that a simply structured reading program using the "Fantastic Phonics” program has the capacity to achieve significant outcomes across a range of Indigenous issues, including:

  • improvements in reading ability;
  • higher school attendance and levels of engagement in education; and,
  • benefits that translate into other subjects, including mathematics.
Evidence base and opportunities

The Early Reading materials, and particularly the Fantastic Phonics program, assist teachers, families, speech pathologists and non-English speaking families too improve literacy and numeracy outcomes for children with special learning needs. These positive outcomes are likely to have been achieved for hard-to-reach groups because the Early Learning materials are easily accessible through multi-media channels and can be delivered in setttings that are safe and non-stigmatising for clients.

The program is readily adaptable for use with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups as evidenced by the production of Aboriginal-specific materials. Research shows that such culturally appropriate considerations, in this case in the design of the printed materials to use culturally appropriate language and stories, can have positive effects on language and literacy.

The Early Learning program and its materials have been shown, through evidence, to be effective for a variety of groups across a wide range of settings around the world. Improved literacy and higher rates of school attendance and engagement demonstrate the effectiveness of the program for children with special learning needs.

The design of the Aboriginal-specific materials was informed through consultation with Elders, and the extent to which the materials can be applied to specific communites with differing sets of needs could be further explored. This consultative approach has been important in producing the existing materials and opportunities exist to continue these consultations with communities about other relevant materials that would help to further engage different Aboriginal groups around Australia.

Opportunities also exist to adopt a similar approach that would help to produce positive results in topics other than literacy and numeracy, as has been demonstrated by improvements in mathematics.

Cultural relevance

Involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

The four Fantastic Phonics books produced specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were designed following face-to-face consultation with Aboriginal Elders. Artwork was provided by an acclaimed Aboriginal artist, and the story themes were developed to reflect "Healthy Body, Healthy Mind".

Cultural practices and materials

The adaptation of the Fantastic Phonics program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children considered:

  • a focus on local community needs;
  • a focus on cultural activities;
  • incorporating pre-reading material to support pre-school children;
  • supplementing the materials with interactive media with an appropriate "voice" to support classroom/whiteboard learning; and,
  • adapting the program into video to facilitate early reading engagement.


Evaluation status

The USAID organisation (the key aid arm of the US Government) has undertaken an evaluation of the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) program that uses Early Reading’s Fantastic Phonics and Teacher Guide. The link below provides access to the final research report, videos of the class teaching strategy and teaching guides designed by Early Reading.

Link to evaluation

Evaluation of the Early Grade Reading Assessment program


Demonstrated outcomes

The final student assessment in June 2010 found that after one-and-a-half years of intervention (using the Fantastic Phonics and Teaching Guides), students in the full treatment group outperformed their peers in all reading skills:

  • the average student in the full treatment group had increased their oral reading fluency and reading comprehension at four times the rate of students in the control group;
  • more than 40% of students in the full treatment group read a passage with 80% to 100% comprehension, compared to less than 20% of students in the control group; and,
  • the average student in the full treatment group also improved in nonsense word fluency (sounding out invented words that resemble English words) 12 times as fast as the control group, indicating that EGRA Plus had a particularly large impact on improving children’s decoding skills, which is a key intermediate step to unlocking fluency and comprehension.

On average, students using the Fantastic Phonics program performed 400% better in general reading than peers who were not using the program, including the adapted Teacher Guides. This single variation showed the remarkable effect of the Fantastic Phonics program. Furthermore, the research summary reported that, in comparison to their peers, the children using Fantastic Phonics gained:

  • 1.9 school years jump in phonemic awareness;
  • 1.8 school years jump in familiar word reading;
  • 8.0 years jump in unfamiliar word fluency;
  • 1.9 years jump in oral reading fluency;
  • 2.0 years jump in reading comprehension; and,
  • 1.8 years jump in listening comprehension.

The Liberian research showed "dramatically accelerated children’s learning to an extent seldom found in educational or social science research” (Final EGRA Report - page 14).

Other evidence

Other outcomes of the Early Reading program as reported in EGRA final report showed:

  • school enrolments and attendance increased by 30%;
  • gender gaps were narrowed through the use of the Early Reading program; and,
  • there were carry-over effects from literacy and numeracy into mathematics.

The EGRA qualitative follow-up report revealed that EGRA Plus increased student achievement as well as school enrollments. This suggests that improving reading outcomes will encourage student retention.

Some qualitative comments from users include:

"[We're] currently using Early Reading with a class of students suffering from autism and a moderate to severe intellectual disability. Getting great engagement with three students now reading … one student has reached book 15 (Level 1) in only four weeks."

"Amazing to hear 'non-verbal' students read with improving speech and articulation. I recommend Fantastic Phonics to consultants who manage classes with children with a disability.”


Liberia is the first full-country program that has adopted the Fantastic Phonics program. Following significant research, the program will be replicated across Rwandan schools in 2013, and slight adaptations to the program and the associated teaching guides will be undertaken. Southern Sudan is also testing the program with the intention of a country-wide implementation in 2013.

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