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The English Education Subject Report Digested






This latest subject report from Ofsted evaluates the common strengths and areas for development that have been seen in schools across the country. The report recommends ways for schools and subject leaders to further improve their English Curriculum.

The report draws on findings from Primary and Secondary schools, including evidence from Reception classes and sixth forms, from a range of demographics.


This blog summarises the key findings in the report and will sign post you to key documents to support school development of your English curriculum and teaching.

There are also some nuggets of wisdom from Kirsty Godfrey's (senior HMI for Early Education) talk at the National English Hub Conference in March 2024.


‘The teaching of reading has improved markedly’

It is clear that schools are prioritising reading and ensuring that the curriculum develops pupils’ reading. In addition, schools have invested in phonics programmes and training so that teachers know how to teach pupils to read.

 

The Phonics Screening Check (PSC) assess year 1 children’s accuracy when decoding words containing common grapheme-phoneme correspondences. This is a key skill for early readers to master. Performance overall in the PSC has improved substantially since it was introduced in 2012. The pandemic affected performance in the PSC scores significantly. There is still work to done here, although results are on the rise. 2023 showed outcomes close to pre-pandemic levels which is positive. The national average result for 2023 was 79% up from 75% in 2022.

 

However, the report found that once pupils are able to read accurately, schools are less clear about how to build fluency and comprehension.

The report highlighted that a number of secondary schools are lacking expertise and systems to support their weaker readers to catch up with their peers.


Our thoughts...

Fluency of reading is an ongoing journey. It begins right at the beginning with speedy sound recognition, ability to decode accurately moving into automaticity of word reading. Children then build fluency of reading decodable texts. As texts become more complex continued fluency practice is key.



Do we dedicate enough time to re-reading decodable books? Can more support be provided to parents and carers to help them understand reading fluency and how best to support their children at home?




What's our staff's understanding of fluency? It is so much more than speed of reading. Could this be a starting point? Check out this page on the EEF website for more information about reading fluency - Fluency | EEF (educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk)



‘The curriculum for writing and spoken language is less effective’

The writing curriculum often introduces complex tasks too early, before many pupils are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills that underpin these.

In primary schools, grammar, sentence structure and punctuation was mostly taught “explicitly” but pupils did “not always get enough practice to secure this knowledge”.

Primary pupils are not given sufficient teaching and practice to become fluent with transcription (spelling and handwriting) early enough.

 

Schools (often) do not consider spoken language well in their English curriculum, although they understand that spoken language underpins pupils’ reading and writing development.

Teachers often attribute pupils’ weaknesses in speaking to a lack of confidence. However, the barrier seemed to be that fact that pupils had not been taught the required knowledge about a particular topic in order provide worthwhile contributions.  

Key new vocabulary from text studied is identified and taught. However, this vocabulary is not embedded through repeated practice in a range of contexts, and often the pupils do not remember to use this new vocabulary in their written and spoken language.


Our thoughts...

Do we plan in enough opportunities to orally build and rehearse sentences before asking children to write them?

Many children need to be able to say a sentence orally before writing it.



Do we need to plan sentences for transcription more carefully instead of leaving the sentences to chance. This could lead to children struggling to write words with sounds in they don't know yet.

Kirsty Godfrey put this simply - Transcription is to writing what decodable books are to reading.



Do all staff understand the importance of oracy and what it fully entails? Learn more about oracy here:



How often to we revisit vocabulary in a meaningful and effective way?


Isabel Beck's book Bringing Words to Life is a great book to read up on key elements to effective vocabulary instruction.



‘Schools are sometimes confused about the purpose of English’

English is not always valued as a subject in its own right. English has an important role as a distinct subject, as well as being a medium for teaching and serving other subjects. However, schools sometimes only focus on its supporting role, and this results in a weaker and less coherent English curriculum.

'Choose texts for study in English first and foremost on literary merit'



Our thoughts...

Do we know the purpose of each text that we are sharing. For example is a text chosen to explore a concept, to read for pleasure or is it to be used to study English.

 



How accessible are the texts we are choosing to share?

Have we considered whether it is the right time to share a particular text?

Which texts have come before this one and which will come after?


External assessments unhelpfully shape the curriculum

Schools sometimes expect pupils to repeatedly attempt complex tasks that replicate national curriculum tests and exams. This is at the expense of first making sure that pupils are taught, and securely know, the underlying knowledge they need.


Some pupils are given considerable help to access these complex tasks, wasting precious time and resources on activities that do not result in them making progress.



Our thoughts...

Do we ask children to complete comprehension papers which are beyond their decoding abilities? Are we gaining anything at all from this?



Do we practice 'exam style questions' too often? Is this a good use of time? Could time be better spent working on vocabulary, background knowledge, fluency and reading comprehension strategies - all key components of reading comprehension. One model we can use is the Reading House - Improving reading comprehension - The reading house model (youtube.com)



As Kirsty Godfrey put it - you wouldn't train for a marathon by doing lots of marathons. You would train the components an effective marathon runner requires.




I hope this blog has given you lots of food for thought and has got you thinking about developments your school could make. I do recommend giving the full report a read - especially the recommendations section.


Please share this blog and the report with your school leaders and let's ignite some positive changes.


For more information about us and the support we offer please go to English Hubs - St Wilfrid's English Hub (stwenglishhub.co.uk)

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