Headlines: January 21st, 2011

Despite some major initiatives in recent years to improve reading and writing, the standards being reached by some groups of children and young people still fall far below that of the rest of the population. Ofsted inspectors looked at the barriers to good literacy and found that poor development of speaking and listening skills at an early age is holding children back from learning to read and write.

The less successful schools limited their expectations of pupils because they measured success against the average for a particular group rather than against the national average for all pupils. For example, where targets for pupils from low-income families were below those of their peers, schools were less likely to narrow the attainment gap for all groups of children.

The most effective providers had at least one senior member of staff with an excellent knowledge of how to teach literacy well. They understood the stages of language development and how and when to provide additional support.

The best early years providers and primary schools visited understood the need to teach phonics rigorously and systematically and the importance of regular reading. However, phonics needs to be central to the teaching of reading in both secondary schools and colleges too.

The report recommends that the Department for Education should, as part of its reform of performance tables, consider how to reflect the achievement and progress of pupils from disadvantaged groups, especially in literacy, compared with the national picture for all pupils.