Ofsted report shows reading has improved but writing and spoken language need more focus

Ofsted has today published a subject report looking at how English is being taught in England’s schools

The report draws on evidence from subject visits to a sample of primary and secondary schools.

Read the ‘Telling the story: the English education subject report’.

The teaching of reading in schools has improved significantly since the introduction of the phonics screening check, the report finds. Schools have successfully invested in phonics programmes and training so that teachers know how to teach pupils to read. However, when pupils enter key stages 2 and 3 unable to read fluently, they are not always supported well enough to be able to catch up quickly.

The curriculums for written and spoken language are less effective. Schools understand that spoken language underpins pupils’ reading and writing. However, many schools are not always sure how to teach spoken language in a way that helps pupils understand how to confidently express themselves.

The writing curriculum often introduces complex tasks too early before many pupils are equipped with the knowledge and skills that underpin these. Primary pupils are not always given sufficient teaching and practice to gain high degrees of fluency in spelling and handwriting early enough.

Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Sir Martyn Oliver said:

"English is a hugely important subject and reading is the gateway to wider learning. The focus being given to the teaching of phonics means more children are leaving primary school able to read. Although there is more work to be done to improve children’s writing and language comprehension.

"I hope our English report will help schools in developing their curriculum for writing and spoken language."

The report had a number of recommendations including:

  • making sure that the national curriculum requirements for spoken language are translated into practice, so that pupils learn how to become competent speakers. This should include opportunities to teach the conventions of spoken language, for example how to present, to debate and to explain their thinking
  • encouraging pupils to read a wide range of books once they are fluent readers, so they build a reading habit
  • helping those pupils who enter key stages 2 or 3 unable to read fluently to catch up quickly. This includes making sure that teaching addresses specific gaps in pupils’ phonics knowledge or provides additional practice for pupils who have accurate knowledge, but read too slowly to absorb information effectively
  • ensuring that teachers have high-quality professional development in English literature and language with time to develop subject knowledge beyond exam specifications
  • ensuring that statutory tests and exams do not disproportionately influence decisions about curriculum and pedagogy
  • making sure that the curriculum takes full account of the foundational knowledge and skills that pupils need in reading, writing and spoken language to carry out more complex tasks and providing them opportunities to practise these key components

From: Ofsted