Headlines: November 17th, 2010

One in five children leaving primary school do not reach the standard expected for reading. This new report from Ofsted shows that by using phonics, virtually all children in primary schools can learn to read regardless of their social and economic background, ethnicity, language spoken at home, special needs and disability.

Despite major initiatives in recent years to raise standards in reading and writing, the levels achieved by many children at the end of primary school fall stubbornly short of what is achievable. This report shines a light on the practice of 12 outstanding schools to illuminate what works. It highlights that teachers need to be well trained and well led. Teaching to read must be at the heart of the curriculum. The schools based their early reading and literacy programmes on well-designed resources. Timely and frequent assessment of pupils helped nip difficulties in the bud and enabled schools to meet individual’s needs.

Phonics teaches children the complex connections in English between sounds and letters, the basis for reading, writing and spelling. The report shows that phonics helps every child to read well, but only when taught rigorously and consistently. It finds that the best phonics teaching involves active participation by all children, detailed tracking of progress and intervention for any child falling behind. Some schools in the report placed emphasis on story time to teach effectively. Some used imaginative play effectively and encouraged children to speak more in structured sentences. Some schools found it suitable to teach in attainment groups and others sent children home with books at differing levels of difficulty.

Inspection evidence and research show that the critical age when children learn to be good readers and writers is between three and seven. The best schools are consistent in giving these children rich opportunities to talk, listen and build as wide a vocabulary as possible to form a solid foundation for reading, writing and spelling.

All schools in the report were highly consistent in their approach to teaching reading, even though there were some differences in the programmes and other resources they had chosen to use. The common thread in all the schools’ approaches to teaching reading and writing are summarised in the report in terms of leadership, rigour, consistency, structure, monitoring, assessment, support and shared commitment.

The Ofsted report is available from this link.