DYT’s founder & chair Sarah Driver on why Ofsted’s new framework needs to look beyond learning to read.

Today is the last day to submit a response to the Ofsted’s consultation on their new draft Inspection Framework.

DYT’s response broadly welcomed the new framework, but we raised several points to be considered and I wanted to write about the one that has always been at the root of my drive with literacy: we must acknowledge that for some, literacy is hard and the framework fails to take account of this.

This is not because these learners are not smart and capable but because they have difficulties learning to read in the first place (difficulties with phonological awareness) and in learning to read with speed and understanding. This only gets harder as they progress through their education.

Learners with literacy difficulties can also have difficulties with verbal memory (remembering the words and the sequence they have heard them) which in education means that they can struggle when given a long list of instructions. In addition, verbal processing speed may not be great (the time it takes to make sense of words).

All of this affects a learner’s working memory, organisational skills and the ease with which they can put their thoughts and ideas down on paper.

How do I know this?  Because three of my four children have such difficulties.

Literacy difficulties, the ‘dumb table’ and pushy parents

My youngest, now aged 20, still can’t read and write at a functional level and yet he achieved two A’s and a C at A Level.  This is because his difficulty with literacy was acknowledged by his school, appropriate access arrangements were put in place and frankly because he had a pushy mother who would not take ‘no’ for an answer!

He was the child who came out of Year 3 saying “I am on the dumb table”. He was in the bottom maths set, not because he is poor at maths but because he couldn’t read the questions. What I want from Ofsted are qualified inspectors who can spot this child in class.  I want them to question how well these children can access the curriculum and how schools are ensuring that this happens, especially as they progress through education.

Whilst it is right that the new framework has a real focus on reading, there needs to be a focus beyond this.  We go from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn’ very quickly in our system and some children will never master reading with the fluidity and comprehension they need in a fast-moving class. However, they can still access the curriculum with support and show us their intelligence rather than their reading ability.

Getting inspections right

My son had teachers who had been trained to understand his difficulties in a school that changed their system to support him. Students who struggled had 3 rather than 4 GCSE options. They had extra time-tabled lessons dedicated to supporting essay writing and getting the best grades they could in all their classes. When they studied Romeo and Juliet, they watched it on tv. When they studied economics, they listened to podcasts. That said, my son still needed a reader and a scribe for his exams, much like a disabled child who needed a wheelchair to get into the exam hall.

My point is that we need Ofsted to really grasp this. To be there for those children. To ensure they too get the best education they can get and deserve to get and that they hold schools to account for it. Schools should not be able to get an ‘outstanding’ award unless they can prove they are inclusive and supporting these children.

At DYT we work with schools through our Drive for Literacy (DfL) programme. DfL focuses on training staff and building school capacity to ensure all children can access the curriculum, whatever their reading ability. With DfL, pupils are encouraged to reach their full potential, and learn that they are not consigned to the ‘dumb’ table throughout their school life. Ultimately all learners in a DfL school, with literacy difficulties or without, are given the opportunity to be capable and contributing members of society and this is the high bar that we challenge Ofsted to measure schools by too.