Press release

Ofsted Chief Inspector calls for rapid improvement in literacy

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, issues a national challenge to drive up stalled standards of literacy and English.

Addressing a group of outstanding teachers and literacy experts in London he will recognise the improvements that have been made, but say national progress on literacy has stalled and the country is being overtaken by other leading nations.

Sir Michael will say that one in five children do not achieve the expected literacy levels by the end of primary school – 100,000 pupils last year alone – rising to one in three pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. One in seven adults, as many as five million people, lack basic literacy skills.

The problem is evidenced by an Ofsted report launched today, Moving English Forward which has found that while in many schools English teaching is effective and pupils make good progress, standards in English are not high enough and, since 2008, there has been no overall improvement in primary pupils’ learning.

Speaking at Thomas Jones School, Ladbroke Grove, Sir Michael is expected to say:

There can be no more important subject than English. It is at the heart of our culture and literacy skills are crucial to pupils’ learning for all subjects. Yet too many pupils fall behind in their literacy early on. In most cases, if they can’t read securely at seven they struggle to catch up as they progress through their school careers. As a result, too many young adults lack the functional skills to make their way in the modern world. We are no longer a leading country in terms of our literacy performance: others are doing better.

We don’t need more research or more headline-grabbing initiatives which can’t be sustained. Good leadership is the key to good literacy in schools. Above all, this means being passionate about high standards of literacy for every single pupil, and creating a no-excuses culture both for pupils and for staff.

I am confident we can get to grips with this issue. I am determined that Ofsted will focus more sharply on literacy in our inspections, and I am proposing ten specific steps to raise national standards in literacy.

Sir Michael will emphasise that strong leadership is the key to good literacy in school. This means investing in and leading the professional development of staff in the systematic teaching of phonics; carefully tracking every pupil’s progress in literacy, especially at transition between the Key Stages; and structured intervention when pupils start to fall behind.

He will note that even achieving the current benchmark at the end of primary school is no guarantee of success. Last year 45% of pupils who achieved the lower end of level 4 at age 11 did not achieve a Grade C in their GCSE English.

Therefore the ten steps to raise literacy standards includes the recommendation that the government considers whether the end of primary school target of Level 4 is sufficiently high to provide an adequate foundation for success at secondary school.

Schools should report to parents on their child’s reading age alongside information on national curriculum levels. From September, Ofsted will prioritise for inspection schools with the lowest achievement levels in literacy.

Ofsted will reinforce and further embed its present inspection practice of hearing children read. Schools’ assessment systems will be inspected to ensure that careful monitoring and effective intervention take place.

In colleges and work-based learning, Ofsted will give even greater emphasis to the inspection of literacy skills, as part of the inspection of programmes of study.

Ofsted will sharpen its focus on phonics in routine inspections of all initial teacher education provision – primary, secondary and further education. It is unlikely that any provider of primary initial teacher education will be judged outstanding unless the quality of its phonics training is also outstanding.

In addition to routine inspections, Ofsted will also start a series of unannounced inspections focused solely on the training of phonics teaching in providers of primary initial teacher education, which could trigger a full inspection.

Ofsted will publish a detailed survey of what works best in secondary schools to improve literacy across the curriculum.

Welcoming Ofsted’s English report at the literacy round table event today, the Director of the National Literacy Trust, Jonathan Douglas, said:

‘Addressing the barriers to raising literacy standards must be a top priority for schools, communities and employers. A focus on reading, writing, speaking and listening is essential across all subjects and we support the Chief Inspector in his call to renew a national drive for higher standards and greater engagement with parents.’

Notes to editors

  1. The report ‘Moving English forward: Action to raise standards in English’, based on visits to over 250 schools, can be found online.

  2. 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.

Media enquiries

Clive House
70 Petty France


Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 6pm 0300 013 0415

Out of hours duty press officer 07919 057 359

Published 15 March 2012