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