Tips for Choosing a Reading Scheme

Choosing a new reading scheme is a big investment for any school, both in terms of financial commitment and the importance of getting a scheme that supports your pupils best on their journey to literacy. All educational publishers will have carefully written schemes, drawing on research and the expertise of literacy consultants, however, you will want to ensure that you choose the right scheme for your school community taking into account factors such as what existing resources you have, what system you are using for monitoring progression and at what stage children are moving on to free reading.

What is a reading scheme?

A Reading Scheme is a series of precisely levelled and skilfully written books that supports reading development. Key educational publishers such as Collins, Oxford and Pearson offer a range of reading schemes from professional literacy experts, authors and editors.


Which reading scheme is best for my school?

Choosing a reading scheme is a process that is unique to every school and each will have its own reasons for purchasing a particular scheme. In many schools the books used might differ between year groups even. For example, Reception and Year 1 classes may be using a rigorous phonics-based reading scheme to match their learning across the phases outlined in Letters and Sounds whilst Year 2 follow book bands and a scheme with a variety of genres to practice their phonics, build confidence and enrich comprehension. Schools will want to include considerations such as Hi-Lo books for children who need to recap the basics but at an interest level that still engages them, and at which point children move onto ‘free’ reading, and the quality and depth of texts in the school library will be a factor in this decision.

Rigorous Phonics Teaching Schemes

Phonics Schemes and Decodable Texts

Emphasis on practice, comprehension
(Book Bands)

Dandelion Readers

Read Write Inc Phonics (OUP)

Floppy’s Phonics Sounds and Letters (OUP)

Jolly Phonics Readers

Project X Phonics (OUP) – small scheme

Bug Club Phonics (Pearson)

Rocket Phonics (Rising Stars’ Reading Planet)

Big Cat Letters and Sounds (Collins)

Songbirds (OUP)

Explore with Biff, Chip and Kipper (OUP)

Decode & Develop with Biff, Chip and Kipper (OUP)

Project X Hero Academy (OUP)

Floppy’s Phonics Fiction & Non-Fiction (OUP)

Ransom Reading Stars: Levels 1–4

Bug Club Independent (Pearson)

Project X Origins (OUP)

Big Cat (Collins)

Engage Literacy (Raintree)

Ransom Reading Stars (Ransom)

Classic Oxford Reading Tree — Biff, Chip and Kipper (OUP)

Rising Stars’ Reading Planet: Comet Street

Rising Stars’ Reading Planet: Galaxy

Oxford’s — Traditional TalesStory SparksAll StarsinFact, Fireflies and Glow-Worms

Rigby Star Family —  Guided / Independent

Are Phonic books banded?

Ideally phonics books will follow the same progression as outlined in Letters and Sounds (DfE, 2007) and historically a book bands approach and phonics approach have not been compatible per se. More authors and publishers are using a best-fit approach to matching the phases of Letters and Sounds and book bands as this makes it easier for schools who are using the book bands system.


Which schemes are fully decodable?

See the chart above


What is the best scheme for teaching phonics?

This is totally subjective and a choice made by schools. You can use reading schemes in two ways — to deliver phonics learning or to support phonics learning.


Can you mix up reading schemes?

Many schools buy into several different reading schemes to give breadth and choice to the children — particularly for the home/ school (book bag book) reading programme. Many choose to have one favoured scheme for Early Years / KS1 Guided Reading. It is possible also to use a reading scheme from one publisher and bolt on to this. For example by using Oxford levels and selecting across the many new series — all linked by the common progression system that is unique to Oxford Reading Tree and TreeTops. To mix and match publishers such as Pearson and OUP, the common progression levels are what is known as book bands. Book bands were deliberately established to enable schools to offer a range of different reading scheme books based on the criteria outlined in the publication Book Bands for Guided Reading (Bickler et al, Institute of Education).


How do book bands work?

Book bands derive from levels initially presented by the UK Reading Recovery National Network but publishers have extended these levels to provide schools with a structure across the entire reading journey. Starting with wordless books at Lilac level, colours progress through 17 stages from Reception to Year 6. Some schools stop at Lime and pupils choose ‘real’ books from this point on. Others continue with a reading scheme book and a library book of free choice. If the ‘real’ books are also banded then this helps to guide book choices for pupils who are ‘free readers’ i.e. not continuing with a reading scheme after a given point.

Typically progression looks like this*:

Reception:   Lilac
Level 0
Pink A / Pink B
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Year 1:   Blue
Level 4
Level 5
Level 6
Year 2:   Turquoise
Level 7
Level 8
Level 9
Level 10
Level 11
Year 3:   Lime (Emerging)
Level 11
Brown (Expected level)
Level 12
Grey (Exceeding)
Level 13
Year 4:   Brown (Emerging)
Level 12
Grey (Expected level)
Level 13
Dark Blue (Exceeding)
Level 14
Year 5:   Grey (Emerging)
Level 13
Dark Blue (Expected level)
Level 14
Dark Red (Exceeding)
Level 15
Year 6:   Dark Blue(Emerging)
Level 14
Dark Red (Expected level)
Level 14
Black / Black+ (Exceeding/Gifted)
Level 16

*all readers will progress at different speeds and may have spurts at varying times

Which reading schemes have Lilac book band?

Lilac books can be found in Collins' Big Cat, Rising Stars’ Reading Planet Lift-off and Oxford’s; Explore with Biff, Chip and Kipper, Story Sparks, Traditional Tales, inFact, Decode & Develop, Project X: Hero Academy and Floppy’s Phonics.


Which reading schemes extend to Year 6 or have KS2 book bands?

KS2 book bands most frequently use the colours: Brown, Grey, Dark Blue, Dark Red and Dark Red Plus (sometimes referred to as Black) , but other systems are out there including the popular Big Cat series that uses Copper, Topaz, Emerald, Ruby, Sapphire, Diamond and Pearl (which can be matched best-fit to the popular book band colours.

Oxford offers the TreeTops series — namely Project X Origins, TreeTops inFact (Non-Fiction), Reflect, Greatest Stories, Chucklers, Myths & Legends and Graphic Novels.

Raintree's Engage Literacy – book band colours up to Dark Red.

Collins' Big Cat – colours outlined below with Pearl being for gifted readers.

Pearson's Bug Club - book band colours up to Dark Red.





Dark Blue

Dark Red

Black (Dark Red+)

Oxford TreeTops Project X Project X Project X Project X Project X
Oxford TreeTops Chucklers Chucklers Chucklers Chucklers Chucklers
Oxford TreeTops Greatest Stories Greatest Stories Greatest Stories Greatest Stories Greatest Stories
Oxford TreeTops TreeTops inFact TreeTops inFact TreeTops inFact TreeTops inFact Treetops inFact
Oxford TreeTops     Reflect Reflect Reflect
Oxford TreeTops Myths and Legends Myths and Legends Myths and Legends Myths and Legends  
Oxford TreeTops   Graphic Novels Graphic Novels    
Raintree Engage Literacy Engage Literacy Engage Literacy Engage Literacy Engage Literacy  
Collins Big Cat Copper
Topaz (Brown/Grey)
Ruby (Grey)
Emerald (Grey/Dark Blue)
Sapphire Diamond Pearl (Red/Black)
Pearson Bug Club Bug Club Independent Bug Club Independent Bug Club Independent Bug Club Independent Bug Club Independent
Rising Stars Reading Planet Mercury & Venus Earth & Mars Jupiter & Saturn Saturn & Supernova  

Are there any schemes that suit boys?

Oxford's Project X Origins and Hero Academy particularly captivate boys. Oxford’s Treetops Chucklers have high appeal for readers who love humour and TreeTops inFact is fascinating for those who love fact-finding. Pearson's Bug Club mixes lots of comics, TV and cartoon characters (including Dr Who) and engaging formats.


Which is the best reading scheme for KS2 struggling readers?

Many schools find that there are some children with phonic gaps still in their reading in Year 2 & KS2. These reading schemes offer extra phonic help for struggling readers.

Year 2 and Lower Key Stage 2 (LKS2)

Upper Key Stage 2 (UKS2)

Project X Code

Big Cat Phonic Progress

Dandelion (revisits Phonics)

Big Cat Phonic Progress

Ransom Reading Stars Plus

Dandelion (practices Phonics)

Pandora Books Scheme Shop

 Kerry - Senior Book Collections Manager

Pandora Books have been supplying schools with books for 30 years. Reading scheme collections have now become a huge part of what we do, and we take great care in working closely with leading educational publishers to ensure schools have access to a one-stop shop of the best reading schemes on offer.  This school year, we have introduced 98 brand new scheme book collections, ensuring that all our resources are completely up-to-date and schools can find exactly what they need from us. 

With schools increasingly looking to implement rigorous phonic based systems we have increased our range of phonic schemes to include Pearson’s Bug Club, which has transformed traditional reading schemes with books that are are individual, modern, engaging and fun, and are available up to book band level Dark Red. Mixed Scheme collections, our super-timesaving and unique range, have been extended to offer Phonic Phases and Phonic Banded collections. Perfect for teachers looking to practice and embed Letters and Sounds through home-reading. Best-selling publisher Oxford, is a preference for many schools and so keeping with Phonics we have Floppy’s Phonics Sounds and Letters or Floppy’s Phonics Fiction and Non-Fiction. Our Mixed Oxford collections are now available for key stage 2, banded from Brown to Dark Red+, and provide a superb mix from series such as Greatest Stories, TreeTops inFact, Chucklers and Graphic Texts. We’re really pleased to include Reflect, Oxford’s emotionally powerful stories which make children think.

Rising Stars’ Reading Planet is still growing and more fabulous Galaxy and Comet Street Kids titles have been added. Key stage 2 will love the new Reading Planet for KS2 pack, featuring a wide range of vivid and exciting fact and fiction books. Maverick’s Reading Scheme is brand new and ratified by the author of Book Bands for Guided Reading, Suzanne Baker. A super addition to our range.

If you would like any help in choosing a reading scheme, please don’t hesitate to give us a call, on 01553 816 068.

Collins Big Cat Collins Big Cat Phonics for Letters and Sounds Collins Big Cat Progress Collins Big Cat Phonics Progress
 Reading Champion Ransom Reading Stars  Ransom Alpha Stars  Rising Stars Reading Planet  Accelerated Reader
 Hero Academy  Project X Origins  Oxford Reading Tree: Story Sparks  Oxford Reading Tree: All Stars  Oxford Reading Tree: Traditional Tales
 Oxford Reading Tree: inFact  TreeTops: inFact  TreeTops: Greatest Stories  TreeTops: Chucklers  Mixed Oxford Boxes
 Mixed Reading Schemes