Ofsted to focus on lowest 20% of readers

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The below is an extract taken from Ofsted’s Annual Report 2018/19

‘Learning to read is the single most important purpose of the first year at school, most of all for the most disadvantaged children.’

‘We intend to strengthen our focus on the inspection of reading’.

Amanda Spielman’s Second Annual Report as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector

4th December 2018

The key to success

Literacy is the key to success in a rounded, academic and vocational education. Schools that understand this both read to children and teach phonics really well. They help the children whose parents have poor literacy, the children who start school with poor vocabulary, the children who find learning to read that bit harder than their peers. These schools address the imbalance.

Early reading

It is hard to overstate the importance of early literacy. Reading is the gateway to almost every other subject, and to children discovering their own unique interests and talents. For that reason alone, ensuring that children master literacy is a central issue of social justice.

Children with poor literacy do worse at school. Young adults with poor literacy will struggle to get the best jobs. Nearly half of the people who end up in prison have literacy skills no better than an average 11-year-old. And parents with poor literacy are less well equipped to help their own children, creating an unfortunate cycle in which disadvantage and lack of opportunity in one generation are replicated in the next. Furthermore, not all children start school from the same place.

More than a quarter (28%) of children leave Reception without at least the expected levels of communication, language and literacy. Some have little or no English; some have never been read to; some will find it harder than others to learn to read, for a whole variety of reasons. Learning to read is the single most important purpose of the first year at school, most of all for the most disadvantaged children.


Widening knowledge gap

Schools that excel in the Reception Year understand these dynamics. They know that the more gaps open up between the achievement of the fastest and the slowest, the less likely it is that the slowest will ever catch up. They know that reading to young children in school, building their vocabulary and their knowledge of language, is a proven contributor to achieving good literacy for all children. They read to children, they teach phonics well and they give children time to practise and consolidate their growing knowledge.

They understand the importance of play as part of the curriculum. But at the same time they understand which parts of the Reception Year curriculum should be taught directly and which can be developed through play. These approaches give children who start further behind the chance to catch up.

The phonics screening check has had a strong impact on children’s reading progress. The proportion of pupils meeting the expected standard has risen from 58% to 82% over the last 6 years. However (as ministers have said), the percentage of pupils reaching the expectations in the phonics check varies considerably, particularly for children who are eligible for free school meals (FSM).

The data shows that in some economically deprived areas – for example, Newham in London and Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East – children eligible for FSM perform much better than in more affluent areas such as West Berkshire.

These differences are particularly stark for boys who are eligible for FSM. In Newham, 80% of boys who are eligible for FSM achieve the expected standard in the phonics screening check compared with West Berkshire, where only 51% of the boys eligible for FSM reach it.


Renewed focus on phonics

Newham shows, year after year, what can be achieved when schools focus on teaching children to read systematically from the very beginning. However, it is clear a renewed focus on phonics may be needed in some schools and LAs.

We intend to strengthen our focus on the inspection of reading. The results from some recent inspections have uncovered schools that are not teaching phonics and reading successfully, where many pupils read below age-related expectations, and where pupils do not become confident, fluent readers before they leave primary school.

This is a concern. We will continue to evaluate the results from inspections over the next few months and, if they continue to show a similar picture, we will place a strong focus on the teaching of reading to the lowest 20% pupils in the EIF in 2019.

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