Ofsted chief promises to ‘raise the bar’ on literacy

Raising the bar: Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw reads with Kai Mavour, nine, at St Mary’s in Battersea
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Children will face ambitious new literacy targets at 11 in an attempt to “raise the bar”, the Chief Inspector of Schools told the Standard today.

Too many are leaving primary school unable to read properly and even pupils who reach expected levels are not able to cope with the demands of secondary school, warned the head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw.

Unveiling his vision for improving the way English is taught in schools, he said teachers must get specialist training in teaching the phonics system of reading. Parents must be kept more informed about how well their children are doing, with a separate report card brought in just for reading results, he said.

Sir Michael revealed his recommendations as he visited the primary at the centre of the Standard’s literacy campaign. In a huge boost for Get London Reading, he praised St Mary’s in Battersea saying it should be a model for the rest the country.

He added: “Here is a school in London with a high number of children on free school meals. You can see it is a very diverse population so it’s a fairly typical inner London school that is doing exceptionally well. It is not saying background and class is an issue. What is an issue is the quality of leadership, the expectations levels of the head and of the teachers in the school that makes the big difference.”

Children as young as five at St Mary’s are paired up with volunteers recruited through the Get London Reading campaign for one-to-one reading.

On his blueprint for raising the bar nationally, Sir Michael said: “One in five children are not ready for secondary school.

“That is a huge number. That’s millions of children leaving primary school not able to access the secondary school curriculum.

“All the evidence shows by that time it’s too late. It’s just too late.

“We have got to make it a bigger issue than we have at the moment. I am very keen that Ofsted raises this issue time and again.” Children are expected to leave primary school with a level four in English, but latest figures show almost 20 per cent failed to do this.

Of those that did reach the standard benchmark, almost one third failed to pass their English GCSE with a grade higher than a C.

It means that even pupils who are on track as they leave primary school are falling behind at secondary level.

Separate research shows as many as one in four struggle to read when they leave primary school.

Raising the exam target levels for primary school children is one of a package of measures Sir Michael will recommend to help push English standards up in schools across the country.

Teacher training colleges will come under greater scrutiny by Ofsted inspectors for the way they prepare teachers to give reading lessons using the phonics system. There should also be greater emphasis on intervening to help children as soon as they show the first signs of problems with reading.

Sir Michael said: “We need to think about whether the level 4 is a good enough standard to progress to secondary school. There’s a real debate going on about this at the moment.

“I think maybe level 4 is too low. We should raise the bar ... because a lot of children who are achieving the national average, particularly the lower end of level 4, are not achieving the five A* to C grades five years after they leave primary school.”

The tests and the targets

How are children tested for literacy?

Children take Sats — standard assessment tests — in English in their final year of primary school at the age of 11, at the end of key stage two.

What standard are children expected to reach?

They are expected to reach level four, and those who reach level five are considered to be doing very well. Latest figures show that 20 per cent failed to reach the expected target, and left with a level three or below.

What should a child be able to do at level three?

They should be able to use joined-up, legible handwriting and spelling should be “usually” accurate. Pupils should be able to talk confidently and read on their own.

What should a child be able to do at level four?

Children should be able to use words for effect and use full stops, capitals and question marks correctly. They must be able to show an understanding of significant themes and characters in books, and refer back to the text when explaining their views.

What should a child be able to do at level five?

Children must be able to refer to a range of different books when answering questions, and select relevant phrases and sentences to support their views accurately. They must be able to organise simple and complex sentences into paragraphs, and correctly use more complex punctuation, including apostrophes and inverted commas.

What will happen next?

It is down to the Government, not Ofsted, to make any changes to test targets. But schools minister Nick Gibb has already hinted they are too low, calling the reading targets “modest” and saying the “expected” level, on which primary schools are judged, should become the minimum requirement.

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