Driving up standards of literacy
07 Sep 2012
International Literacy Day on 8 September focuses attention on global literacy needs as figures show that around 780 million adults worldwide cannot read or write. With government surveys suggesting that the UK’s standards in English have slipped in comparison with other countries, in March this year, Ofsted called on providers of early years, schools and further education and skills to renew a national drive for higher standards and for more engagement with parents and learners. We take a look at the findings from our latest reports on literacy and feature two case studies showing what good practice in literacy looks like.
Ofsted’s recent reports Moving English Forward (published in March 2012) and Removing barriers to literacy (in January 2011) highlight that too many of our children and young people are falling behind at the beginning of education and lack the practical skills to successfully make their way in the adult world.
Laying the foundation
Moving English forward found that although pupils are making good progress, standards in English aren’t high enough and one in five children is not achieving the expected literacy levels by the end of primary school – 100,000 pupils last year alone. This rises to one in three pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Inspectors found that the factors that most commonly limited pupils’ learning included: an excessive pace of a lesson; an overloading of activities; inflexible planning, and limited time for pupils to work independently. In some schools teachers concentrated too much or too early on a narrow range of test or examination skills and few schools give enough thought to ways of encouraging the love of reading in school and beyond the classroom. The report identifies 10 actions to raise standards of English in schools and some measures that the government should take.
Improving adult literacy
Removing barriers to literacy revealed that, in five of the 22 colleges and other providers of adult education and training visited, learners were taking qualifications in English or literacy at the same level or lower than those that they had passed previously. Adult learners interviewed for the survey talked about a downward spiral that starts in primary school and affects their further education and job prospects and other daily needs in adult life, such as reading and understanding basic instructions. Poor development of speaking and listening skills at an early age is holding children back from learning to read and write.
In the most effective providers visited for the survey, staff identified learners’ different starting points and needs accurately and adapted their curriculum, including any intervention programmes, to meet changing needs. Inspectors also saw a wide variety of approaches to the teaching and learning of literacy that built on the consistent use of phonics.
The report recommends that teachers are given regular training in developments in teaching literacy. This would help them have higher expectations and better assess individual pupils’ progress and needs.
Encouraging reading at Don Valley
One of the good practice examples on our website shows how leaders at Don Valley Academy and Performing Arts College, in Doncaster, have worked hard to improve students’ attitudes to reading and enhance their literacy skills.
To get the reading habit integrated straightaway, in the first term of Year 7, the English homework for all students is to read independently at home. The school launched a joint parent/child reading group, attended by a local author, which inspired parents and pupils. Family Review Days held in the library give parents the opportunity to talk about books with the librarian and with students. They can drop in anytime to discuss how they can help their child choose a suitable book and offer support and encouragement.
The school annually updates and sends out a list of recommended reads to reflect current trends in reading as well as classics. It also produces 'Reading Matters' leaflets for parents, with useful hints and tips to support their child’s reading, which include the following.
• ‘Read aloud with your child, or try reading the same book they are reading and talk to them about it.
• Let them see you reading, whether it is a book, a magazine or a newspaper. Lead by example!
• If they enjoy movies or TV shows based on children's books such as Tracy Beaker or Harry Potter, encourage them to give the books a try.
• Encourage them to read to younger brothers and sisters. We have a 'babysitting' box in the library with great books they could use.
• Encourage them to join the school Readers' Club. They can then get involved in all kinds of extra-curricular activities, from drama workshops to meeting the illustrator from Beano!’
Improving writing at Aston Manor
Another case study demonstrating good practice is of Aston Manor Academy, a secondary school and sixth form in Birmingham. Its data showed that students arrive in Year 7 with weaker writing than reading skills. The English department has therefore led the way in emphasising the teaching of writing during lessons across the curriculum. The school has a common approach to marking for literacy, which is displayed in all classrooms and some corridors. A ‘Literacy Task Group’ and ‘Literacy Champions’ from every curriculum area meet regularly, and parents and carers are also encouraged to get involved in improving their children’s literacy skills.
A ‘Writing Matters’ booklet for students has helped to improve students’ writing. The booklet contains:
• helpful definitions of key subject terms
• examples of aspects of grammar and punctuation
• suggestions of connectives that could be used
• strategies to support spelling
• examples of words that have different meanings in different contexts.
Ofsted has also produced a video film that shows Sir Michael Wilshaw’s visit to St Mary’s School in Battersea. It discusses the importance of good literacy skills and considers some of the steps the primary school has taken to improve standards.
The reports, Moving English forward and Removing barriers to literacy, and other useful resources are listed below.