- The requirement for all teachers to contribute to raising standards of literacy is highlighted in the Teachers’ Standards.
- It is good practice for schools to audit their provision of literacy in order to plan for improvement.
- Schools should use a variety of literacy trails to deepen their analysis and evaluate the impact of what they are doing.
- Schools should develop policies to promote reading for enjoyment throughout the school.
What Ofsted is looking for
It is very clear that, under the new Ofsted Framework for school inspection, inspectors will be looking closely at provision for whole-school literacy and its impact across the curriculum. This is made very clear in the Ofsted publications Reading writing and communication (2011), which is designed to provide guidance to inspectors, and Removing barriers to literacy (2011), a survey of successful practice in all phases of education.
Moving English forward (Ofsted 2012) also has much to say on what schools need to do to promote literacy: for example, all schools should, ‘develop policies to promote reading for enjoyment throughout the school’ and, ‘secondary schools should strengthen whole-school literacy work across all departments to ensure that students extend and consolidate their literacy skills in all appropriate contexts’.
The requirement for all teachers to contribute to raising standards of literacy is also highlighted in the Teachers’ Standards, with the expectation that they should: ‘demonstrate an understanding of and take responsibility for promoting high standards of literacy, articulacy and the correct use of standard English, whatever the teacher’s specialist subject’.
Understanding your data
Leaving inspection requirements aside, it is clearly good practice for schools to audit their provision in order to plan for improvement. Reading writing and communication recommends that inspectors begin by interrogating the school’s achievement data using the following questions:
- Is attainment in English at any key stage below that found nationally?
- Is attainment for English and mathematics below the national floor standard?
- Is attainment in English significantly lower than that in mathematics (or than other subjects at Key Stage 4 with proportionately large entries, e.g. science)?
- Is the attainment of any particular groups in English significantly lower than the average for the school and for all pupils nationally?
- Is attainment in any of reading, writing or speaking and listening significantly lower than the other skills? (Generally, attainment in writing is lower than in reading which is lower than speaking/ listening, although this does vary slightly by key stage and in some schools.)
- Is the attainment of any broad ability group in English significantly lower than others, especially those pupils who were working below expectations at the previous key stage?
- Is progress in English by the end of the key stage (as evidenced by value added scores) significantly below expectations?
- Is progress in reading or writing (if the data are available) significantly below expectations? Is there evidence that pupils leave the school without the expected level of reading skills?
- Is progress in English for any particular group of pupils, including by prior attainment, significantly below expectations?
- Does attainment and progress, overall and for groups, fluctuate over three years and unrelated to any contextual factors in the pupil cohort?
It is particularly important for secondary schools to analyse students’ Key Stage 2 English performance on entry: children gaining Level 4 may have done so on the strength of their reading. If their writing is weaker this will lead to a widening gap in performance wherever in the curriculum extended writing is required.
On the basis of the above analysis of performance data, inspectors are then recommended to use a variety of literacy trails to deepen their analysis. Good schools will be doing this anyway, and following them up to evaluate the impact of what they are doing. Such ‘literacy trail’ activities could include:
- tracking groups of pupils to gauge their ‘literacy experience’ in any one day
- observing literacy intervention activities
- scrutiny of pupils’ work, to evaluate both literacy skills and the quality of feedback
- interviewing pupils with a focus on their understanding of their progress and performance in literacy, including their reading experience.
It is important that observation of literacy activities is informed by the right questions. Reading, writing and communication suggests a range of such questions which I suggest could usefully be turned into a self-evaluation exercise at the start of the audit process, along the lines of the form on self-evaluating literacy provision in the toolkit.
Not only will these questions engender useful discussion across the curriculum, they will also provide a benchmark for progress when the weaker areas are revisited later.
- Reading, writing and communication, Ofsted 2011, available to download at: http://bit.ly/ReadingWritingCommunication
- Removing barriers to literacy, Ofsted 2011, available to download at: www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/removing-barriers-literacy
- Moving English forward, Ofsted 2012, available to download at: www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/moving-english-forward
Use the following items in the Toolkits to help you to put the ideas in this article into practice:
- Example - primary school data49.5 KB
- Form - Monitoring literacy across the curriculum33.5 KB
- Checklist - Attendance17.66 KB
- Checklist - Literacy skills49.5 KB
- Form - Self-evaluating literacy17.4 KB
About the author
David Birch is Associate Director of the National Education Trust and a freelance education consultant. He is a school improvement adviser working with local authorities in the south west and was formerly principal of a secondary school in Devon following a career teaching English in London and Oxfordshire.
This article was first published in the February 2014 online issue of School Inspection + Improvement Magazine.