Press release: Reading by six: how the best schools do it - Ofsted

14 Nov 2010

Ref: NR- 2010-38

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The best primary schools teach virtually all their children to read, regardless of their social and economic background, ethnicity, language spoken at home, special needs and disability – an Ofsted report launched today reveals.

Nationally, one in five children leaving primary school do not reach the standard expected for reading and writing. The report, Reading by six: how the best schools do it, highlights the good practice of 12 outstanding schools across England representing a diverse range of communities that show it is possible for all schools to achieve the highest standards.

Success in the 12 schools was based on a determination that every child will learn to read, together with a step by step approach to teaching reading, writing and spelling systematically through phonics.

Launching the report, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Christine Gilbert said:

‘Despite some 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. Teachers need to be well trained and well led. Teaching to read must be at the heart of the curriculum.

‘These 12 schools are not a rarified elite, the challenge is for all schools to match their achievements. If schools set their minds and practice to it, they can teach virtually every child to read.’

Phonics teaches children the complex connections in English between sounds and letters, essential to understand when learning to read and spell. The report finds that phonics helps every child read well, but only when taught rigorously and consistently. It shows that the best phonics teaching involves active participation by all children, detailed tracking of their progress and intervention for any children who are struggling.

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.

Phonics teaching in the 12 schools in the report showed consistency, structure, fast pace, praise and reinforcement. 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.

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.

A school in a Bangladeshi community with children learning English as their second language organised a daily literacy hour and half an hour of guided reading, with two hours of extended reading during the week.

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.

Subject leaders for literacy and reading managers played an important role in all these schools in helping them keep in touch with individual children’s progress and being knowledgeable about the development needs of their staff.

Good resources in schools provided systematic structure for children and teachers, reducing the burden of planning and offering attractive materials. But resources did not replace high-quality instruction by teachers using systems effectively.

The report recommends actions schools can take if standards in teaching or reading are anything less than outstanding. Shortcomings can be addressed, for example, by adopting a high-quality phonics scheme, training all teaching staff in teaching phonics effectively and monitoring the implementation and impact of the programme chosen.

Notes for Editors

1.The report, Reading by six: how the best schools do it, is available on the Ofsted website at

2. All 12 schools were judged outstanding in their last inspection, with outstanding grades for leadership and management and the quality of educational provision, especially teaching and learning. All achieved above average standards in reading by the end of Key Stage 1 and English in Key Stage 2.

3. The 12 schools in the report are:

  • Blue Coat Church of England Infant School and Nursery, Walsall
  • Bourne Abbey Church of England Primary School, Bourne, Lincolnshire
  • Fairlawn Primary, Lewisham
  • Kingsley Primary School, Hartlepool
  • North Walsham Infant School and Nursery, Norfolk
  • Old Ford Primary School, Tower Hamlets
  • St Clare's Catholic Primary School, Liverpool
  • St Richard's RC Primary School, Manchester
  • Thomas Jones Primary School, Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
  • Trenance Infant School, Newquay, Cornwall
  • Turnfurlong Infant School, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire
  • Woodberry Down Primary School, Hackney

4. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children's social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.

5. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 020 7421 6617 or via Ofsted's enquiry line 0300 1231231 between 8.30am - 6.30pm Monday - Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359

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