Schools are to be told to concentrate on phonics in the teaching of reading in the wake of the Office for Standards in Education survey of reading skills in three deprived inner-London boroughs.
New guidance to go to primary schools is likely to stress the need for more whole-class teaching and group work and less reliance by teachers on listening to individual pupils read aloud.
The report finds that 80 per cent of the seven-year-olds in the 45 schools surveyed in Tower Hamlets, Islington, and Southwark, are behind in reading. However, the tables show that between 40 and 50 per cent of those pupils did not have English as a first language.
Among 11-year-olds, 60 per cent of pupils are reading below their chronological age. Some 40 per cent of that age group are not reading at the level expected of a nine-year-old. The largest group of under-achievers at 11 are white pupils from disadvantaged groups.
According to the report, the heart of the problem is weak teaching. Teachers, it says, are committed to teaching methods that do not work when judged against the attainment of pupils. Inspectors noted that teachers spent a great deal of time listening to children read and they saw sessions in which children read on their own with little or no intervention from teachers.
What was missing in much of the work, says the report, was the systematic teaching of an effective programme of phonic knowledge and skills. The report is also critical of heads. The management of reading, it says, was effective in only a third of the schools.
It adds:"It is clear that, while teachers worked hard at the teaching of reading, too much of their effort was wasted because either the organisation and management of the work was too complicated or their own knowledge about the teaching of reading was weak."
The three local authorities that co-operated with the research reacted sharply to the report's content. They have complained about changes made between the draft and final stages of the report (see story left). Tower Hamlets said it was aware before the research that reading standards had to be improved and that had been the key reason for co-operating.
Islington's director of education, Hilary Nicolle, points out that the purpose of the survey had originally been a positive one, that was "to draw attention to those methods and policies which contribute to measurable improvemens in reading standards in inner city schools".
She says: "The commentary added after the original draft even implies that teachers are committed to methods of teaching which they know do not work. Our literacy project shows the opposite. "