Delays in speaking hampers reading ability

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A new Ofsted report is warning that delays in children's ability to speak and listen are hampering their learning to read and write.

The report looked at the factors that stop children from gaining good reading and writing skills.

It said that systematic phonics work, where children are taught to blend letter sounds to form words, is vital in tackling the issue. But it also suggested that barriers in children's communication skills needed to be overcome as well.

The report highlighted how many children who struggled with literacy skills had experienced a disturbed start to life.

In poorer areas visited by inspectors, schools had a good idea of why some pupils struggled with literacy - low aspirations in the home, few set routines or boundaries for behaviour, and poor attendance.

A reluctance by parents to engage with the school and limited experience of life beyond the immediate community was also highlighted.

Schools that did well were found to be good at focusing on speaking and listening, as well as maintaining high expectations for their pupils.

In raising the attainment of learners in literacy who are most at risk of not gaining the skills they need for successful lives, the factors identified by Ofsted included: 

  • Teachers with high expectations for pupils’ achievements in literacy.
  • An emphasis on speaking and listening skills from an early age.
  • A rigorous, sequential approach to developing speaking and listening and teaching reading, writing and spelling through systematic phonics.
  • Sharp assessment of progress in order to determine the most appropriate programme or support.
  • Carefully planned provision to meet individual needs.
  • Rigorous monitoring of the impact of provision.
  • High-quality pastoral care to support learning in literacy.
  • Highly effective use of time, staff and resources. 

Ofsted chief inspector, Christine Gilbert, said: "Despite some major initiatives in recent years to improve reading and writing, the standards being reached by some groups of children and young people, including those from low-income families, certain ethnic groups and looked-after children, still fall far below that of the rest of the population."

Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, said: "Poor literary skills hold children back in all subjects and cause pupils to lose interest and become disillusioned with school. Every child must have a decent grasp of the basics from a young age."

"That's why it is a priority for this government to raise expectations and aspirations for all pupils. Improving literacy levels at all ages is one of the keys to achieving this.

"This is why we are increasing support for phonics teaching and are introducing an age six reading progress check, so that we identify children who are falling behind before it is too late."

Amongst its findings, the report recommended that Schools should:

  • Teach phonics systematically as part of the teaching of reading and ensure that pupils’ progress in developing their phonic knowledge and skills is regularly assessed.
  • Ensure that governors regularly receive reports which include the progress and attainment in English of particular groups, such as White British boys and pupils known to be eligible for free school meals.
  • Raise the expectations of staff for pupils from low-attaining groups, especially in Year 7, and use all available assessment information to ascertain their literacy needs and to set them challenging targets; this is particularly important to establish suitable expectations for GCSE English language.
  • Consider nominating a member of staff to take responsibility for maximising the achievement of learners who are potentially at risk of failing to reach average levels of skills in literacy.
  • Ensure that all teaching and support staff receive regular training in developments in teaching literacy.
  • Ensure that assessment information is available and shared for all looked after children, and where it is missing request the information promptly from the relevant local authorities. 
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