NEWS INDEPTH

Ofsted report into English teaching

A new Ofsted report, Moving English Forward, asks that schools do more to introduce whole-school approaches to reading for pleasure and suggests appointing reading advocates to ensure teachers stay up-to-date with new books.

The report does not go so far as to suggest that every primary and secondary school should have its own library, nor does it explicitly advocate linking schools and public libraries.

However, the thrust of the report - which can be downloaded as a PDF, below - makes it clear that reading for pleasure should be a priority in every school.

The report's creator, Sir Michael Wilshaw HMCI, included the following comments on Reading for Pleasure: (you can download the full report, below)


READING FOR PLEASURE

65. There has been considerable recent concern about an apparent decline in reading for pleasure. Evidence includes previous Ofsted reports, international surveys and the Evening Standard reading campaign. Ofsted's evidence from English surveys can be summarised as follows. In too many schools there is no coherent policy on reading overall; schools put in place numerous programmes to support reading, especially for weak readers, but do not have an overall conception of what makes a good reader. In recent years the view has developed, especially in secondary schools, that there is not enough curriculum time to focus on wider reading or reading for pleasure. Inspectors also noted the loss of once popular and effective strategies such as reading stories to younger children, listening to children read, and the sharing of complete novels with junior age pupils.

66. A recent development in reading has been the emphasis on 'guided reading' in schools. This is a potentially useful strategy. However, inspection evidence suggests that it should complement rather than replace the different approaches mentioned earlier. Many primary schools in particular appear to believe that guided reading in itself will improve standards, although few have

Guided reading is a method of teaching reading to children. It generally involves a teacher and a group of around four to six pupils. The session is focused on a set of objectives to be taught through the 20 to 30-minute session. While guided reading takes place with one group of children, the remaining children are engaged in independent or group literacy tasks. The idea is that the teacher is not interrupted by the other children in the class while focusing on one group.

The important question for schools is not whether they make use of a guided reading approach but how effective it is.

67. The National Curriculum rightly led to a considerable widening in the range of texts that was read and studied, including a much-enhanced emphasis on non-fiction. Inspectors believe that questions now need to be asked about the balance of time spent on different types of text in English. The most common activity in the English lessons observed was teaching the features of a persuasive text. The question arises: is studying holiday brochures or writing letters of complaint as central to English as reading novels and poems? Given that teachers are more likely to use non-fiction texts in other subjects of the curriculum, should English teachers devote equal amounts of time to non-fiction as to literary texts?

68. Criticism has been expressed in the past about the emphasis on extracts rather than complete texts in lessons. Inspection evidence suggests that this imbalance is being addressed in many schools. However, it remains the case that many secondary schools include only one unit of work in each year of Key Stage 3 that focuses on the class reading of a novel. This approach does introduce students to a good-quality text that they might not otherwise read. However, if badly taught, the 'class reader' can be a dull and slow business, discouraging the more able readers who might have finished the book themselves at home in a couple of days. Schools need to consider more imaginative approaches to teaching novels and to introducing pupils to a wider range of imaginative texts across Key Stage 3. Does every page have to be read as a class? Is there a better way of studying the class reader, especially prior to GCSE, which enables classes to encounter a range of novels in the course of the year, rather than just one? Teachers also need to be confident that their study of a class novel is encouraging pupils to read other books outside school.

69. Other issues raised in subject visits include the limited and often unimaginative variety of books read in class, and the focus, described earlier, on teaching a narrow range of literary/critical responses to texts. Students themselves frequently commented to inspectors that they would like more opportunities to respond in a creative way to the books they read. Inspectors have observed lessons at Key Stage 3 where, for example, a Shakespeare sonnet has been taught without the poem once being read aloud to the students.

70. Two further points need to be made. First, evidence from the survey suggests that too few schools currently develop reading skills effectively across the curriculum. Inspectors rarely see the direct teaching of skills such as skimming, scanning and reading for detail (including on the internet); using the index and glossary; identifying key points and making notes; summarising; or using more than one source. There is also a lack of extended reading in subjects other than English, where use is commonly made of extracts and where teachers are less aware of approaches that might help pupils to read effectively and make sense of what they are reading. A case study of good practice in developing reading across the school is included later in this report.

71. Second, research confirms that many primary teachers understandably, since most are not subject specialists have a very limited understanding of the world of literature, including good-quality contemporary literature. For example, over half the teachers involved in the research could name only one, two or no poets at all. This relates to the issue of subject knowledge discussed in more detail elsewhere in this report.


Literacy across the curriculum

72. As noted above, schools need a coherent policy on developing literacy in all subjects if standards of reading and writing are to be improved. Even with effective teaching in English lessons, progress will be limited if this good practice is not consolidated in the 26 out of 30 lessons each week in a secondary school that are typically lessons other than English or the 70% or so of lessons in primary schools that do not focus on English. This debate is, of course, long established and formed a central point of the Bullock report on English published in 1975. Previous efforts to raise literacy as a whole-school initiative have tended at best to have a short-term impact. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education recently reported that 'schools should be developing cross-departmental strategies to develop literacy' and recommended that Ofsted should look 'more closely at this'. In response, Ofsted has produced training materials for all inspectors and will be evaluating the extent to which schools can demonstrate a whole-school commitment to improving pupils' literacy during whole-school inspections.'

Tricia Adams, director of the School Librarian Association, responded to the report, "One of the key findings is that too few schools give thought to a love of reading; surely an indication of encouraging a love of reading in a school is a good library and a qualified librarian?"

Public libraries also have a "critical role to play" in inspiring children to read, said Miranda McKearney, director of The Reading Agency. "We'd like to see library partnerships in every school improvement plan, and head teachers championing joint work, including ensuring every child is a member of their local library."


24/03/2012Ofsted report into English teaching
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