Will Ofsted’s new strategy ‘move English forward’?

Ofsted has issued a “national challenge” to drive up what it says are “stalled standards of literacy and English”. It says even those reaching the current benchmark may not achieve a C grade in their English GCSE exams, so is suggesting the Level 4 primary target could be raised to pave the way for secondary success. But is this really the best way forward? The NUT has said other measures would free up teachers to teach what children really need to learn – and the ATL questioned whether April 1st had arrived early!

One in five children don’t achieve expected literacy levels by the end of primary school – 100,000 pupils last year alone – rising to one in three pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. And one in seven adults, as many as five million people, lack basic literacy skills.

A new Ofsted report, ‘Moving English Forward: Action to raise standards in English’, suggests that while in many schools English teaching is effective and pupils make good progress, standards are not generally high enough and, since 2008, there has been no overall improvement in primary pupils’ learning.

Ten steps to rapid literacy success

Ofsted is proposing ten specific steps to raise national literacy standards, including the possibility of raising the benchmark for the end of primary, to maximise chances of success at secondary.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted chief inspector, said that inspections would focus more sharply on literacy, and that strong leadership is the key to good literacy in school.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that teachers need recognition of existing expertise to choose the approach to reading that suits the children they are teaching.

Pressure on children

“There is a danger that the government will seize on the passages in the report which state that writing in the Early Years Foundation Stage is the weakest skill for young children. All professionals know that the skill of writing will naturally emerge later than those of speaking and listening. Michael Gove must not interpret this as a need for more input and further pressure on children to write earlier and more often in the early years.

“It is interesting that a reduction in the concentration on tests is recommended by Ofsted at the same time as high stakes testing in primary schools is being increased through the introduction of the Year One Phonics Screening Check. Removing Key Stage 2 SATs and the Year One Phonics Screening Check would do more to free up teachers to teach what children really need to learn than any number of literacy intervention strategies,” said Ms Blower.

‘Schools don’t know which way to look’

Meanwhile Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: “Has April 1st come early? Ofsted’s chief inspector is now saying that ‘We don’t need more research or more headline-grabbing initiatives which can’t be sustained’ as he launches Ofsted’s latest research.

“Did Ofsted forget or deliberately fail to mention when it changed its inspection regime just six weeks after the last one was introduced, that it would be focussing more sharply on literacy? With such fast-moving goalposts, schools don’t know which way to look.”

Download the report from Ofsted’s website here.

Do primary literacy standards need raising? Is this the right approach? Share your views…


8 thoughts on “Will Ofsted’s new strategy ‘move English forward’?

  1. The issue of standards is one that dogs education constantly. It is often a simple for of rhetoric used for political noise generation.To improve any ability you need to engage the participant, manage their learning and celebrate achievement of application and promote the personal reward (self fulfilment). Why level 4, why grade C? Who decided that these standards are the benchmark and why? Most learning occurs best when there is a need and our other personal needs are fulfilled. If we want to people to raise their literacy standards we must engage them, show the need and make it fun to learn. Should we set raised literacy “standards” for newspapers, for literary works of any kind in fact first, for without a challenge what is the point in developing the ability? We must show people what a raised literacy ability will make available to them, how they will personally benefit, what access to knowledge and understanding it will provide then it will not be a case of pushing to reach a standard it will be a case of meeting the needs of those exceeding them.

  2. I really do not understand why the Government cannot learn from the evidence surrounding it. We only have to look at countries where ‘play’ is a form of learning at a young age, and formal teaching of reading, writing and spelling begins at age 7, to see that this is far more in keeping with children’s readiness to learn, and in what form. Far from being ‘behind’, these children excel in reading ability and, what’s more, enjoy reading. Isn’t it time we ‘woke up’?

  3. This is interesting to me as a creative practitioner in schools, especially the comments about fun and play and formal teaching from 7 yrs. My puppetry for Screen Schools Workshops are primarily aimed a 7 yrs and upwards. We create Puppet characters and perform them on camera basically. This involves character creation, role play and storytelling and while myself and many Teachers find that this improves literacy at all School ages, certainly in terms of children’s writing, I find it’s a difficult case to make and of course prove to educationalists. More info here http://www.handsuppuppets.com/html/Puppetry_Arts_Education.html

  4. A good idea would be to teach teachers good English. I have had two children who have completed their state education and I have taught alongside state teachers for years. I know from experience how ignorant of good English most of them are; and I am a 6th form Maths and Physics teacher.
    Lack of teachers’ Mathematics’ education is a more serious area of concern. Recently, I heard a Deputy Head teacher positively bragging that she had failed GCSE Maths three times and an ex Head Teacher railing against the teaching of quadratics: “When are they going to need that?” He said. With that kind of intellect in Senior Management positions, no wonder Britain’s education provision will not compete with China et al.
    My children? They did very well at A level thank you, mostly because my wife and I were educated sufficiently to make up for, and often repair, the inadequate education they received at a state school in Leicester .

  5. Children grow up in a continuous onslaught of mass media which pays scant regard to basic literacy or articulacy, which openly flouts any demand for grammatical or lexical precision and where even pronunciation is regarded as optional. Given this, we have generations of ‘educated’ professionals already out there who do not regard literacy as important any more. In this context, teachers do not simply need to address standards, they need to start a revolution against the currently seemingly inevitable demise of our language. They need to draw attention to the beauty of lanuage, and the affronts to that beauty which now abound, to use examples of disenfranchisement through linguistic imporishment and to make very clear who benefits and who is ultimately controlled and either owned or excluded by the present status quo.

  6. Giving all learners more opportunities to express themselves through the spoken word is critical. Drama activities (which may include script writing), giving talks to a peer audience, debating and such like activities are so important towards literacy development and a space in the curriculum must be given for these activities.
    Furthermore, we can help repair some of the the damage by resurrecting the national literacy one to one strategy which was killed off so abruptly!

  7. It’s not an original oservation, but using a longer tape measure does not make one taller!(just maybe more aware how much we fall short)
    I agree with the previous comments about readiness,motivation and English \ academic standards amongst the teaching population.It is surely part of our job to set high standards for ourselves and use our professional judgement as to whether individuals are ready.
    It also worries me,the level of sophistication we already expect our children to exhibit in response to texts. Especially in KS2 when some have only just cracked fluent decoding and often have very limited life experience (relevant to the texts they are reading)verbal or non-verbal reasoning, voicing an opinion which is truly theirs, or even discussion which is not argument.

  8. I work in a children’s centre and we struggle to get parents to engage with their children even for a short time. Mobile phones and the internet are an obsession and are now not allowed in sessions! We show the parents the importance of mark making how to get children interested and the importance of reading and writing positively introduced from a young age. Many children are pressured to read and write to young, I agree with so many of you that we are missing the bigger picture. Society in general has a lot to play in the breakdown of the use of verbal communication and basic English language. We have a lot to play in expecting children as young as 4 to learn (look at Sweden they have higher outcomes and start teaching literacy age 7 when the children have the skills to implement it).

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