DYT Director of Operations Karen Wespieser takes us through five key takeaways on literacy from Amanda Spielman’s Ofsted report, including the claim that ‘ensuring children master literacy is a central issue of social justice’

  1. The basics

Unlike SEND, literacy always gets fair coverage in Ofsted Annual Reports. This year was no different, and literacy was front and centre on the first real page of the report (there’s quite a preamble in these things!) In a section headed ‘getting the basics right’ there is extensive discussion of early reading led by the claim ‘ensuring that children master literacy is a central issue of social justice’. DYT would not disagree!

  1. Literacy as the gateway

The report expends a whole paragraph explaining why literacy is important. For Ofsted, this includes a cycle of poor outcomes at school, difficulty getting the best jobs and even the threat of prison (“nearly half of the people who end up in prison have literacy skills no better than an average 11-year-old”). Again, DYT would not disagree. We would however also like it acknowledged that there is a significant proportion of the school population who struggle with literacy. Special attention needs to be paid to these young people so that they do not fall into the cycle described above.

  1. Reception is the key

Following on from its controversial Bold Beginnings report, Ofsted use the Annual Report to assert that “learning to read is the single most important purpose of the first year at school.” Whilst this is important, we would also like to add to that list the importance writing, speaking and listening, which together with reading make up the cornerstones of literacy.

  1. Reaching the expected standard in the phonics screening check can be a postcode lottery

The report notes the rise over the last six years in the percentage of children reaching the expected standard in the phonic screening check. However, the report draws particular attention to the variation by region, particularly for children who are eligible for free school meals (FSM). Whilst the gap in FSM is considerable (in Newham, 80 per cent of boys who are eligible for FSM achieve the expected standard in the phonics screening check compared with West Berkshire, where only 51 per cent of the boys eligible for FSM reach it), the report fails to highlight the gap that exists for pupils with SEND. Successful areas help eight times as many children as the least successful, for example just six per cent of children with an EHCP in Coventry reach the expected standard compared to 47 per cent of children in Hammersmith.

  1. Ofsted intend to strengthen our focus on the inspection of reading

Ofsted warn that 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. They pledge that if the results from inspections over the next few months continue to show a similar picture, they will place a strong focus on the teaching of reading to the lowest 20 per cent of pupils in the EIF in 2019.