History of Candle’s Literacy Programme

The staff team at CandLE have spent many years researching and trialling various approaches for teaching literacy to students who have complex communication needs and/or rely on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). The first resource was developed by Marion Stanton (Lead teacher and assessor at CandLE) over a 15-year period and is called ‘Phonics for All’. Initially she planned the programme, with the support of a Speech and Language Therapist, around the needs of one student. Over the years, many students have been found to benefit from it. ‘Phonics for All’ and all of CandLE’s other resources will be described in detail in the relevant sections of this document but first, an explanation of how they arrived at the programme.

Karen Erikson & Caroline Musslewhite

In 2004 Karen Erickson, researcher and teacher from University of North Carolina, came to the UK and shared her research in teaching literacy to students who have significant, complex needs. Inspired by this, Marion immediately began to implement some aspects of the approaches that Karen had suggested. Marion was further encouraged by the visit in 2009 by Caroline Musselwhite of AAC Intervention in Arizona. You can find out more about the work of these two specialists here:

Karen Erikson: Center For Literacy and Disability Studies

Caroline Musselwhite: AAC Intervention

4 Blocks & PODD

In 2015 Marion was invited to an introductory training in 4-Blocks. 4-Blocks is an American literacy programme that has been adapted and made accessible for students with complex needs. It has also been adopted in parts of Australia. The same year Saff Murphy-Mann (our senior teacher) and Marion had PODD training. This is a specific system to support communication. You can find out more about 4-Blocks and PODD here:

4 Blocks


In 2016, Saff and Marion attended the full 5-day 4-Blocks course after which they began to think about how to apply all they had learnt within a UK context. The course we attended was run by Jane Farrell and Sally Clendon. You can find out more about them here:

Jane Farrell

Sally Clendon

Although they really like 4-Blocks there are elements that, in their opinion, don’t conform to education systems in the UK and they strongly feel that students with complex needs and/or who rely on AAC deserve to access the education system of their own country.

The emphasis on phonics in UK systems needed incorporating and as they had already produced ‘Phonics for All’ it could be added into the mix. Marion also had experience of successfully teaching literacy through whole word alongside phonics. One of her most prominent students, Jonathan Bryan, has achieved considerable fame having been labelled as PMLD prior to Marion supporting his mother to set up a home education, literacy system for him. By the age of 9, he was fully literate.

Staff at CandLE have considerable experience with optimising physical access to AAC low and high-tech devices. Marion has worked in Occupational Therapy as well as being a teacher. This knowledge has led to the development of our ‘Access for All’ communication book. The design, ℗ Marion Stanton, is a cross pattern rather than the conventional arrangement of placing options in the four corners. This was trialled with several students who rely on AAC and in every case targeting accuracy improved.

If you are interested in buying any resources to support your literacy programme, you can access them here.

CandLE are happy for you to use any of the ideas you read here to develop your own resources or mix and match your own with purchasing some resources from their sister company if you wish.

Read about CandLE’s Literacy Programme