Ofsted chief’s answer to low literacy standards; same old tried and failed methods.

Sir Michael Wilshaw’s answer to the poor literacy standards in our country’s schools brings to my mind an image of a man repeatedly trying to force a door open without taking the trouble to find out what’s stopping it from opening in the first place. Not only that, but there are other people all around him who have managed to open similar doors, and people who have taken the time to look into why the door won’t open, and are offering advice. Yet, he just ignores them all and keeps on forcing. More force must be all that’s required.

Hundreds of primary schools are failing to reach the current target. Wilshaw’s answer? – Raise the target. I may be missing something, but I confess I am totally unable to see the logic in this.

A recent Ofsted report finds that since 2008, there has been no overall improvement in primary pupils’ English learning. You would think this would be a clear indication that what we’re doing really isn’t working. Wilshaw’s answer? – More of the same.

“..…if they can’t read securely at seven they struggle to catch up as they progress through their school careers.”, says Wilshaw.

This may be perfectly true of children in the UK state education system, but in other countries, that don’t even start formal literacy learning until age 6 – 7 (ie: the majority of other countries in the rest of Europe!), they seem to be doing just fine. Wait, they’re actually doing much better.  But the government continues to ignore this remarkable anomaly. Presumably because they just can’t understand it.

“Having a strong grasp of literacy needs to start with the youngest pupils”, Wilshaw goes on.


Not according to the Cambridge Primary Review, which says there is no evidence that an early introduction to formal learning has any benefit, but there are suggestions it can do some harm.  They suggest extending the foundation stage to age 6, and examining the “feasibility of raising the school starting age to six, in line with these changes and international research and practice.”

In a summary of the problems with current arrangements the report finds, “children’s statutory entitlement to a broad and balanced primary curriculum compromised by the national tests and strategies”, “excessive micro-management by government and the national agencies” and “the dislocation of mathematics and, especially, English by the national strategies for numeracy and literacy.”

The final report was published over two years ago. And this is just one report. There’s plenty of other evidence out there to support some major changes. When, oh when, will the government start taking this seriously, and give up trying to force that door open?


This post was featured on Mumsnet. 


4 Responses to Ofsted chief’s answer to low literacy standards; same old tried and failed methods.

  1. Maybe it also has something to do with the woeful literacy standards of some of our teachers? A friend of mine’s 8 year old daughter is constantly having her spellings wrongly corrected by her teacher – luckily she is bright enough to know better, but if it is confusing for her, what must it be like for the less literate pupils?

  2. sarah cable says:

    I think you need to read all of his comments- he has a 10 point plan which includes phonic screening- this is a wonderful step forward and will pick up children who are possibly dyslexic.

    There is no way that all children will reach level 4- you need to understand the bell curve of intelligence. There is a distribution and there will always be a bottom 20-25%, and a top 10-20%.

    The problems is that many schools are still not using synthetic phonics as a means of teaching literacy. It’s poor teaching that is at the root of poor literacy. You really need to tackle teacher training and literacy methods in schools- not Minsters. The Rose report set down guidelines ages ago but schools just aren’t following these.

    I speak as a teacher of 35 years and a specialist literacy tutor who catches the children who have fallen through the net.

    • Jo says:

      I just think that whatever the methods or standards, it’s like anything with children – if you try to get them to do something too early it’s counter-productive.

  3. Zoe says:

    Things like this are part of the reason why I left primary school teaching. The government’s obsession with test results has turned education into an exam factory and sadly it has filtered down to even the youngest children. Putting so much pressure on 4- and 5- year olds doesn’t help them learn, it just switches them off learning, right from the start. There is a famous quotation ‘education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire’, but it seems to have swung too far in the opposite direction these days.

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