Tips for Choosing a Reading Scheme

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.

Rigorous Phonics Teaching Schemes

Phonics Schemes and Decodable Texts

Emphasis on practice, comprehension
(Book Bands)

Dandelion Readers

Phonics Bug (Pearson)

Bug Club (Pearson)

Read Write Inc Phonics (OUP)

Rocket Phonics (Rising Stars’ Reading Planet)

Project X Origins (OUP)

Floppy’s Phonics Sounds and Letters (OUP)

Big Cat Letters and Sounds (Collins)

Big Cat (Collins)

Jolly Phonics Readers

Songbirds (OUP)

Engage Literacy (Raintree)

Project X Phonics (OUP) – small scheme

Explore with Biff, Chip and Kipper (OUP)

Ransom Reading Stars (Ransom)


Project X Alien Adventures (OUP)

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


Project X Hero Academy (OUP)

Rising Stars’ Reading Planet: Comet Street


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

Rising Stars’ Reading Planet: Galaxy


Ransom Reading Stars: Levels 1–4

Oxford’s — Traditional Tales, Story Sparks, All Stars, inFact, Fireflies and Glow-Worms


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

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 or Alien Adventures), 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 above with Pearl being for gifted readers.

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

Publisher Range Brown Grey 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 Alien Adventures particularly captivates 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

Big Cat Phonic Progress

Ransom Reading Stars Plus

Dandelion (revisits Phonics)

Dandelion (practices Phonics)

Pandora Books Scheme Shop

 Kerry - Senior Book Collections Manager

“We are delighted that Pandora Books’ Scheme Shop is fast becoming teachers’ favourite place to quickly and confidently source quality reading books for a varied, progressive and vibrant whole-school reading programme. The ultimate Pandora Books aim is to help create an inspiring reading environment whereby young readers are challenged, encouraged and happy to read their latest book. These books will not languish in an unopened book bag we promise you that! They won’t crinkle either as Mary and Tracy will have fitted every book with a protective jacket to make sure your investment lasts.”

Are you looking for something new?

“Adding to our wonderful mix of reading resources for KS1, we are delighted to bring two very different schemes to the mix; Reading Champion, written in partnership with the Institute of Education, and Big Cat Phonics for Letters and Sounds which closely follows the Phonics Phases 1–6 but uniquely cross links to colour book band levels. The popular Reading Planet range has been expanded, offering a new Lilac Plus set of books as well as more books in each colour band. Last but not least for KS1, we all have a very fond spot for the new Big Cat Paddington books that the youngest readers will not be able to resist.

What about KS2? So many schools are extending book bands beyond Lime so it makes perfect sense to offer schools our most popular Mixed Scheme Boxes in Brown, Grey, Dark Blue and Dark Red. All of these will come in the amazing handy colour-coded storage boxes that our customers LOVE. We have also extended our range of Big Cat, Project X and Engage Literacy to now include levels for KS2 too.

Finally, for schools looking to top up reading scheme stock with books to support the Accelerated Reader™ programme, we are unique in supplying ready-made AR levelled sets of mixed reading scheme books. This includes AR Intervention collections for older, struggling readers.

So don’t let us keep you… there’s lots to peruse in the Pandora Books Scheme Shop this year.”

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