Friday, March 16, 2012

That Ofsted report – ‘Moving English forward’

In large part this new report has been motivated by the need to respond to a growing tide of complaints from employers’ organisations and from higher education institutions about the standards of literacy of school leavers. There is also a growing awareness that, in the globalised world in which this country operates, other countries have already overtaken us academically, or are rapidly catching up – hence the current interest in what the teaching establishment can learn from Finland, China, India and Singapore.
There’s far too much in ‘Moving English forward’ to comment on at length and in detail but it’s worth raising one or two of the points it makes.
For example, it states as prerequisite in any phonics programme worth its salt many of the things Sounds-Write has been arguing for years: good subject knowledge of both teachers and classroom assistants, creative use of well-designed resources and activities, effective modelling, saying sounds precisely, good use of dynamic or formative assessment, lots of differentiation, and so on.
What is interesting though is that reading and spelling do not seem to be recognised as two sides of the same coin. Spelling is linked only to handwriting. This is bizarre because if reading and spelling are not linked, it is very difficult to develop a coherent and consistent vocabulary for explaining and teaching the relationship between the two. All the best phonics programmes will teach the two in parallel. This makes them mutually reinforceable and it helps pupils to learn both at the same time.
I was also struck by the point made in the document that reading (I’d add spelling/writing) skills needs to be taught across the curriculum, which is why, as well as Key Stage 1 teachers, all Key Stage 2 teachers require proper training in how to teach reading and spelling as they come up in the course of teaching the broader curriculum. The same applies to the secondary phase, notwithstanding that, according to the report, secondary teachers ‘do not even accept ... they have a responsibility for improving literacy within their own subject’!
Nonetheless, what the report does is to lay down a marker that this government and Ofsted are speaking with one voice. That voice is saying that they are, from now on, going to demand ‘a new minimum, or “floor” standard’, which they will ‘expect all schools to meet’.
The report concludes by saying that ‘it seems clear that more effective training is now needed in many schools’. Yes, it does! And we’re very happy the inspectorate has arrived at this conclusion. What they need to do now is to make sure it happens.

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