Telling the Story: ofsted English Education Subject Report Analysis

An analysis of the ofsted research and analysis report 'Telling the Story: ofsted English Education Subject Report' explored through the key words comprehension, vocabulary, decoding, phonics, and fluency.

Yesterday, 5th March 2024, ofsted published their Research and Analysis document, ‘Telling the story: the English education subject report’.

The full document is a must read for all English and Literacy Leads in England. We could only find an online version on the government website via the link above. We have pasted the report in its entirety into this pdf for those that want an offline copy.

Analysis by Theme

This blogpost pulls together the report by the following themes:


The word ‘comprehension’ appears 33 times in the report. The following are some of the instances that stuck out to us.

From the ‘Main findings’ section: curriculum and pedagogy, primary and secondary

”Leaders in most schools know that it is important to ensure that pupils read increasingly complex texts to develop reading comprehension.”

”They recognise that comprehension comes from accessing a wide range of texts and encountering different forms and concepts and includes having a wide knowledge of the world.”

”However, in some schools, completing national curriculum test and exam-style questions is the main, extremely limited, method of improving pupils’ reading fluency and comprehension.”

From the ‘Discussion of findings’ section

"For example, in ‘guided reading’ sessions, the same text is used for teaching language comprehension and word reading fluency. These texts serve neither purpose well for pupils in the early stages of learning to read."

From the 'Reading' section

"Some schools have developed clear strategies to help pupils achieve reading fluency, recognising its importance for their reading comprehension. However, pupils do not always have sufficient practice to achieve this. In these schools, teachers over-use reading comprehension questions. This does not build pupils’ reading fluency.”

From the ‘Spoken Language: Summary of the review relevant to spoken language’ Section

”Developing spoken language, including vocabulary, is essential for the academic progress of all children. Pupils can develop language comprehension and composition through a literature-rich environment, for example through interactions with adults and by listening to, talking about and learning by heart stories, poems, rhymes and songs. The teacher has an important role in modelling competence as a speaker and listener, contributing significantly to developing pupils’ spoken language.”

From the ‘Reading: Summary of the review relevant to reading’ Section

“Skilled reading requires accurate, speedy word reading and good language comprehension.”

“Reading comprehension requires knowledge of vocabulary, context – including the background knowledge of the subject of the text, syntax and narrative structure, as well as the capacity to read fluently.”

”Reading comprehension strategies can help pupils to uncover the meaning of texts. However, the usefulness of explicit teaching of these strategies is time limited and unlikely to benefit pupils before they can read sufficiently fluently.”p>

From the ‘Reading accuracy, fluency and comprehension’ section

”In many schools, pupils who cannot read fluently have to complete written reading comprehension tasks from extracts, usually as part of guided reading sessions.”

”In one school, leaders had carefully considered the relationship between early reading, fluency and comprehension. This school continued to check that pupils had secure knowledge in phonics and frequent opportunities to practise reading accurately to automaticity up to Year 6.”

”The leaders had also considered how pupils built their comprehension through both a wide range of texts and repeated encounters with the same text.”

”Some schools are clear about how, once fluent, pupils get better at reading comprehension through regular reading and by developing their knowledge of language and the world.”

”In many schools, learning new vocabulary is part of the process of reading comprehension.”

”For example, in one school, teachers explicitly teach pupils the knowledge they need for comprehension.”

From the ‘How one primary school went about establishing a coherent reading curriculum’ section

”Leaders understood that reading comprehension related to background knowledge and made sure that this was taught intentionally.”

Comprehension strategies were time limited and effective. They came second to reading to pupils and giving pupils increasingly complex texts to read.

From the ‘What pupils know and remember, and what this means they can do: Summary of the research review in relation to impact’ section

”While pupils speak positively about their experience of English, many have distorted ideas about what the subject of English is. Some pupils think that their school teaches them to get better at reading by giving them harder and harder comprehension activities.”

From the ‘Systems at subject and school level: Summary of the research review in relation to prioritising English’ section

In most schools, leaders use different commercial plans for different purposes: for example, one for reading for pleasure and another for comprehension… However, in the great majority of schools, leaders have not given as much thought to how these different plans work together, what research and evidence they are based on, and how they might provide a coherent curriculum for teachers and pupils.

Now from the ‘Secondary English’ section

From the ‘Supporting struggling readers and developing a culture of reading’ section (for secondaries)

”Leaders in most schools are aware of the limited impact of comprehension strategies. They know that comprehension strategies alone will not support pupils’ developing understanding. While they may provide some initial support for weaker readers, in helping them know what to think about while trying to understand a text, a continued focus on them is unlikely to improve comprehension.”


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Useful or Relevant Commentaries

Many have commented on this repoort, from the critical to the supportive. We offer these links not because we agree or disagree with the positions of the authors, but because it feels useful to gauge sentiment of various interested parties.

English & Media Centre

The EMC published their critique of Ofsted's Telling the story report in March. You can read it here.

The Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE)

The CLPE published their critique of Ofsted's Telling the story report in March too, calling it 'Telling the Story - what's the real story that's emerging?' You can read it here.

Michael Rosen

Michael Rosen published a blogpost on the Ofsted report which you can read here.

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