It’s the phrase that launched a thousand Ofsted reports. It’s the Holy Grail of headteachers and subject leaders and the wish of every parent.
Without consistently good literacy teaching we will never achieve the fluency in reading and writing for every child associated with the world’s best education systems.
Just how far we have to travel to achieve the goal of world-class literacy in our schools is evident from Ofsted’s most recent report on the subject. Moving English Forward, published in March 2012, found that although pupils were making good progress, standards in English weren’t high enough.
One in five children was not achieving the expected literacy levels by the end of primary school. That means 100,000 children every year in England are struggling to achieve the communication skills they need to survive and compete in the global economy.
Inspectors found the factors that most commonly limited pupils’ learning included:
- excessive pace of a lesson
- overloading of activities
- inflexible planning
- limited time for pupils to work independently.
“In some schools,” the inspectors noted, “teachers concentrated too much or too early on a narrow range of test or examination skills and few schools give enough thought to ways of encouraging the love of reading in school and beyond the classroom.”
As if teachers need reminding, these findings from the Government’s own watchdog point to two of the problems that have bedevilled British education in recent times: the pressure from league tables to ‘teach to the test’ and excessive prescription leading to a lack of emphasis on creativity and enjoyment.
Equally important is the message that the quality of teaching and leadership needs to improve. Around 70 per cent of schools surveyed by Ofsted were judged to be good or outstanding in English. That’s pretty good in comparison with other subjects, but there’s still some way to go before we achieve the global benchmark of excellence, namely consistently good literacy teaching in every school.
According to our survey of over 500 subject leaders, high quality teaching and support staff, underpinned by high quality initial teacher-training and continuous professional development, is the key to achieving world-class literacy levels.
Amanda McGarricle, a primary head from Kent, summed up what many in the profession believe is required as follows: “Consistently good teaching in all classrooms, which would have an impact upon teacher training, recruitment and procedures for capability. No child should have anything less than a good teacher.”
What practitioners want above all are enthusiastic and highly-skilled teachers who are free to use a range of teaching techniques adapted to the individual needs of their pupils.
In order to achieve that goal our political leaders need to invest, first and foremost, in high quality teacher training. They need to attract the best graduates and create the conditions so they will stay in the profession.
School leaders and subject leaders should be given the resources they need to develop their staff through high quality CPD and opportunities to improve their teaching and deepen their subject knowledge.
High quality teaching backed by the resources and leadership at all levels to bring this about. With a general election just around the corner, these are important messages to get across. So spread the word!
Next week: A literacy specialist for every primary school – be sure to follow our blog over the next ten weeks to find out what teachers really, really want for their pupils