England is being overtaken by other leading nations because progress on literacy has stalled, says chief schools inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw. Speaking ahead of a speech on Thursday, in which he will call for targets for 11-year-olds to be raised, he said: “Our standards should be higher.” Teaching unions say big improvements have been made in the past two decades. Sir Michael said one in five children was not reaching the standard expected (level 4) at the end of primary school. and find it difficult to get jobs.”
Sir Michael says even those who do attain expected standards have no guarantee of going on to get a good GCSE pass in English. “We are no longer a leading country in terms of our literacy performance – others are doing better.” The proportion of children achieving at least Level 4 in English has risen since 1995, when 49% made the grade. The education inspection body Estyn’s latest annual report said 40% of pupils could not read as well as they should be able to when they arrived at secondary school. He also says parents should be told their child’s reading age as well as how they are doing against national targets. Ofsted, he says, will focus “more sharply” on literacy in its inspections, and on phonics training for new teachers.
From May, five and six-year-olds will be given a “phonics check”, which the government says will help identify children who need extra help. But she said the proportion of children achieving the expected level at age 11 and at GCSE level had risen since the mid-1990s. “However, it is essential that it does so on an evidence basis, rather than picking and choosing information that seems to support a predetermined view.” Mary Bousted, from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said national tests were narrowing the curriculum. “It may well be one of the major causes why children at primary school who’ve had an over-emphasis on test items, can’t access the secondary curriculum.”
Sir Michael took up the role of chief inspector in January and changes have been coming thick and fast, including “no notice inspections” and schools being told they won’t be judged outstanding unless teaching is top class. Raising the bar for all children at that age – which Sir Michael is now suggesting – will be more hotly debated. With more schools becoming academies, with greater freedoms, the government sees a stronger Ofsted as a way of making sure schools stay on track, but some say too much prescription will hold back improvements.