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Primary reading 'not good enough'

Chief inspector calls for review of literacy strategy, reports Helen Ward.

FEWER than 4 per cent of primary schools in England have made progress every year under the National Literacy Strategy.

Analysis of the 300 representative schools which Ofsted is tracking show that more than 285 have had a year when standards in English stalled or even fell.

And progress in maths is scarcely better with about 4.5 per cent of schools making progress every year. These figures show the difficulties primaries face in maintaining continuous progress.

This week chief inspector David Bell called for a review of the literacy strategy. He said the teaching of reading is not good enough with an estimated 200,000 seven-year-olds not reaching the expected standards in their key stage 1 tests.

He said Ofsted will be carrying out its own in-depth study on reading in schools over the next 18 months.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said primaries were suffering from the shift of investment to secondary schools.

Mr Hart said: "We need more fundamental reviews of literacy and numeracy like we need a hole in the head. The strategies are there, the schools are well used to them. The keys to higher standards are more resources and more staff.

"The Government thinks it has cracked the problem of primary education and is investing a great deal of money in secondary schools.

"There is a great danger that without a sustained level of investment in primary schools the momentum of progress will stall."

The Ofsted report, The National Literacy Strategy: the first four years, said:

* Heads' leadership and management of the strategy is weak in one in ten schools (extrapolated nationally this represents 2,000 schools).

* There is not enough phonics taught up to Year 2.

* Phonics teaching in Year 3 and Year 4 has not improved enough.

Mr Bell said: "The two key weaknesses that need to be tackled are reading and phonics. The strategy guidance is not helpful enough."

But he praised teachers for the improvements in English and maths teaching where standards have risen since the strategies were introduced.

The numeracy strategy is not in need of review, said inspectors, although there are concerns that the plenary sessions, which sum up what has been learned, are weak in one in six lessons.

David Hopkins, director of the Department for Education and Skills's standards and effectiveness unit, which runs the strategies, said:"The Ofsted report corroborated the research we have been doing. One of the reasons for bringing the two strategies together is because we want to address the leadership and implementation issues more effectively."

A pilot scheme to support underperforming schools in 13 local authorities has already begun and pound;9 million is to be spent on workshops for Year 6 teachers on literacy and numeracy learning.

While standards in English rose from 64 per cent of 11-year-olds achieving the required standards in 1998 to 75 per cent in 2000, no further progress has been made. And standards in reading have dropped in the past three years from 86 per cent in 2000 to 83 per cent in 2002.

The Government's target for 2002 was that 80 per cent of children should reach level 4 in the English national tests.

Since the numeracy strategy was introduced standards have risen from 69 per cent of children achieving level 4 to 73 per cent in 2002.

* A new mark scheme for the national tests in English will help teachers assess children's weaknesses more easily, said literacy expert Sue Palmer.

Year 2 teachers, who mark the tests themselves, will no longer have to assess whether children are at level 1, 2a, 2b, 2c or 3.

Instead a series of "focuses", such as using correct spelling, have been published which enable teachers to grade work more easily.

The new scheme will also be used in key stages 2 and 3, where work is marked by external examiners.

The National Literacy Strategy: the first four years and The National Numeracy Strategy: the first three years are available on Letters, 22

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