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A Summary of Ofsted's English Subject Review: Telling the Story

This is my summary of Ofsted's English subject report which was released in March 2024. The report uses their research review to reflect on practice from 25 primary schools and 25 secondary schools across England. I've summarised the key findings as I've understood them and wanted to share them with others in the profession. It doesn't replace reading the detail of the report and I would urge you to read it for yourself (especially the examples of effective practice), but I hope this is a useful summary for busy leaders and teachers.


I'm always grateful to anyone who supports my work. If you find this summary useful, and would like to help support this website, I have made a PDF and an editable Word version of this written summary, as well as the PDF of the visual graphic, which can be downloaded from my Gumroad page. Thank you so much in advance. If not, please find everything you need below.

 

Main Findings


PRIMARY

  • Reading has a high status in primary schools and there has been a marked shift towards having all children reading by the end of KS1.

  • Systematic synthetic phonics, daily teaching and decodable books were very common in the sample schools.

  • Pupils can struggle from the beginning of Reception if there are weaknesses in phonics teaching.

  • The effectiveness of continuing to develop pupils' fluency varies across schools. Those that are successful provide pupils with lots of opportunities to read aloud and be read to. This helps support their pace and intonation. Some schools lack clarity about how to achieve this.

  • Texts in English are often chosen due to their link to the wider curriculum rather than on their ability to advance pupils' knowledge of English language and literature.

  • Explicit teaching of grammar, sentence structure and punctuation is not always followed by sufficient practice for pupils to become secure. Oral composition is rarely used to practice, and fundamental errors can often go unnoticed and are persistent.

  • There is often insufficient time and practice for pupils to achieve fluency with handwriting and spelling. Dictation is rarely used as a well to develop transcription skills. Pupils are often expected to produce extended pieces of writing without having secured these skills.


PRIMARY AND SECONDARY

  • It is rare for schools to follow a curriculum which develops pupils' spoken language. Weaknesses are often attributed to a lack of confidence rather than a lack of knowledge and practice.

  • Reading is prioritised across both sectors but story time outside of EYFS and KS1 does not always happen as often as schools intend.

  • Schools use a range of approaches to teach vocabulary; however, it is not always planned how vocabulary can be embedded once it has been taught - which often leads to pupils not remembering.

  • Despite schools knowing the importance of a varied reading diet, schools can limit the improvement of reading fluency and comprehension by prioritising the completion of SATs and exam-style questions.

  • English is allocated significant time but it is not always used productively, especially in KS1. Some activities can be 'time-filling' and can lack purpose.

  • When leaders arrange additional teaching and intervention for pupils in KS2 and KS3 who do not yet read fluently, this teaching is not always addressed towards knowledge gaps and is too infrequent to support rapid catch up.


SECONDARY

  • Leaders often choose texts based on literary merit, which also prepare children to read increasingly challenging texts.

  • Grammatical and syntactical knowledge is not always identified and so do not build on what pupils learned at primary school.

  • There is variation between how spelling and punctuation is taught and revisited: some schools plan systematically; others leave teachers to determine what to address at the individual or class level.

  • It is not uncommon to see the same inaccuracies and mistakes repeated in books - especially the basics.

  • There can often be a lack of knowledge of how to support pupils who start KS3 unable to read and write fluently. Sometimes, tasks which mask these gaps are given (such as gap-fills) rather than tasks which directly address the pupils' gaps.


ASSESSMENT

  • Summative assessment is most effective when it is focused on assessing what pupils have learned from the curriculum.

  • Formative assessment is not always well used to help teachers understand what pupils have learned and whether they are ready to move forward.

  • Preparation for external assessments can often distort the curriculum - KS3 can often be used to prepare for GCSE.


SCHOOL SYSTEMS

  • EYFS and KS1 teachers who teach phonics often receive training; however, beyond phonics there is often little training to build teachers' knowledge about English literature and language.

  • Most CPD is focused on assessment and moderation.


Discussion of Findings


  • There have been notable improvements to the teaching of English since Ofsted's previous report which was released in 2011. The next steps include ensuring that pupils learn important foundational knowledge well and from the start. For pupils with lower starting points, especially those with SEND or from disadvantaged backgrounds, this is especially important.

  • The quality of the curriculum is paramount in ensuring pupils learn the key knowledge at the right time.

  • Despite the substantial amount of time allocated to English, this time is not always used productively.

  • Most primary leaders see phonics as the curriculum for teaching all pupils to read.

  • When teaching is less effective, pupils can fall behind in phonics from the start. Lessons and interventions are not always matched to what pupils can already do and what they need to do next.

  • Weaker reading knowledge in KS2 and KS3 affects the quality of support for pupils. Assessment does not always lead to the identification of gaps.

  • Few pupils receive the intensity of support necessary for their word reading weaknesses to be addressed.

  • Across the sector, there is variation in how much practice children have to develop their reading fluency.

  • There are not always sufficient opportunities for pupils to be read aloud to. Story time is not always prioritised.

  • Pupils who have not built a reading habit by the end of KS2 tend not to do so in KS3 and beyond.

  • Most secondary schools provide a good-quality literature curriculum at KS3. Choices are informed not just by the texts leaders want pupils to study but also the themes, genres and concepts they deem to be important to study,

  • At primary, texts are often chosen due to their links to wider areas of the curriculum rather than for their literary merit and relevance to children's next steps in their knowledge of English literature and language.

  • Pupil weaknesses with writing are often attributed to relate to their stamina or resilience rather than being interpreted as a weakness of the curriculum.

  • There are common issues with how children are taught to physically write. Often, teaching lacks the precision and emphasis on how to hold a pencil and how to sit at a table to write. Issues created at this age can be very difficult to address as the children become older.

  • Pupils are often expected to produce extended pieces of writing without having secured the requisite transcription skills or knowledge of what to write about. Oral composition is often undervalued as both a process to enable children to write extended pieces and as an outcome in itself.

  • Careful consideration of what spoken language pupils will learn can lead to children developing a strong understanding and use of rich vocabulary and language structures.

  • Most schools lack an explicit curriculum for developing spoken language. This means that despite including opportunities for debate and discussion as part of the curriculum, pupils are not necessarily enabled to participate and take advantage of these experiences because they lack the component knowledge to do so.

  • There is often a lack of alignment between the spoken language aspects of Drama and the English curriculum overall.

  • In primary schools, there is often a lack of consideration for how pupils' competencies and knowledge in one aspect of English links with their performance in another.

  • Despite progress being made, assessment continues to distort the curriculum in some schools.

  • In primary, moderation demands can mean that pupils are expected to produce overly manufactured outcomes which do not always reflect what they can do independently.

  • Formative assessment is not commonly used effectively.

  • Subject expertise is common in secondary schools. In primary, there has been significant commitments to developing teachers' knowledge of phonics teaching though this does not always continue to KS2.

  • Schools rarely take a systematic approach to professional development which leads to variation in how well some areas of the curriculum are taught.

  • A significant amount of professional development time is focused on exam practices and moderation.


Recommendations


Curriculum and Pedagogy

  • Translate the NC requirements for spoken language into practice.

  • Ensure the curriculum includes the foundational knowledge and skills outlined in the NC for reading, writing and spoken language. This knowledge should enable pupils to complete more complex tasks and requires sufficient, high-quality opportunities for practice.

  • The reading curriculum should, over time, build pupils' reading fluency, linguistic knowledge, and knowledge of the world. It should not be limited to responding to exam-style questions.

  • Encourage pupils to read a wide range of books and build a reading habit.

  • Support pupils in KS2 and KS3 who cannot read fluently. This support should enable rapid progress and be addressed at specific gaps.

  • Ensure pupils have sufficient practice in transcription skills.


Primary
  • Continue to ensure EYFS and KS1 children have daily teaching of phonics.

  • Ensure staff know how to continue to develop pupils' fluency.

  • Ensure all KS2 staff are trained in SSP.

  • Choose texts based on literary merit.


Secondary
  • Ensure those supporting pupils can identify whether support should be focused on decoding or reading fluency.

  • Plan for progression in spoken language with the same precision as reading and writing.


Assessment
  • Do not allow statutory tests and exams to disproportionately affect decisions about curriculum and pedagogy.

  • Ensure formative assessment provides the right level of information and confidence about what pupils have learned and their readiness to move on.


School Systems
  • Provide high-quality professional development beyond knowledge of exams and moderation.

  • Ensure teachers understand what pupils need to learn to be successful in English.


Subject Associations

  • Help schools understand the different components of written and spoken language and how to sequence, explicitly teach and assess them.


Initial Teacher Education Providers
  • Ensure those at the start of their careers have a sufficiently broad knowledge of English and are able to recognise their learning needs.


PRIMARY


Curriculum


  • All of the primary schools visited taught English daily.

  • Most of the schools taught phonics daily.

  • Texts for English study are mainly chosen based on availability, current affairs topics or the interests of pupils or staff: this often leads to a fragmented curriculum.

  • Some schools operate under the misconception that having a focus on foundational knowledge in writing lowers the ambition of their curriculum.

  • Some schools' curriculums are shaped by writing moderation and national curriculum tests.

  • Some pupils are rushed through the curriculum without having sufficient opportunities to practise and become fluent in the foundational knowledge.

  • Vocabulary is given a high significance. In mosts schools, the words focused on link to texts that are being studied. Where less consideration has been given, the focus is on learning disconnected words which are not able to be used in a range of contexts.

  • All schools gave less specification to their spoken language curriculum that to reading and writing.


Spoken Language


  • In some schools, leaders have considered the importance of language-rich environments and the emphasis on interactions between adults and children. Staff model speech effectively and there are routines and processes for structuring talk and listening.

  • There are limited opportunities in the English curriculum to teach the component knowledge of spoken language. Consequently, pupils do not always learn the range of language structures and techniques and have insufficient opportunities to practise them.


Writing


  • The NC is used in all schools as the basis for their writing curriculum. Grammar, punctuation and spelling are taught explicitly. However, a lack of practice can lead to not all pupils securing this knowledge.

  • Pupils' errors can become embedded and persistent when they are not directly addressed.

  • All schools plan for pupils to write frequently. In most schools, pupils have the opportunity to edit their work.

  • Some schools see extended writing as the mode of practice rather than valuing specific practice activities. This means that pupils are sometimes asked to complete tasks for which they lack fluency and readiness.

  • In the significant majority of schools, there is great use of scaffolding and editing. When this is overly used, pupils are often rushed into composing complex texts, when they are not ready to do so.

  • Oral composition, such as telling a familiar story, is often used as part of the writing sequence but is not often seen as an end goal. Pupils who lack the proficiency to plan and consider sentence structure, grammar or vocabulary oral often struggle to do so when transcription is also involved.

  • Few schools used dictation to practise and test spelling every week.

  • A lack of cohesion in the curriculum affects pupils' development in writing. Handwriting in particular can be an issue if the early stages are taught as part of the phonics programme and if schools have not considered progression beyond the programme and handwriting is subsequently not taught.

  • Issues attributed to the pandemic restrictions are often addressed by giving pupils more opportunities to write rather than to deal directly with the component knowledge or practice that was missed or affected.


Reading


  • All the sample schools use SSP to teach pupils the early stages of reading. This includes using decodable books which are consistent with pupils' phonic knowledge. Most children with SEND learn through these programmes.

  • Pupils who struggle to keep up with the rest of the class do not always get the teaching they need to build on their prior knowledge and secure what they have so far learned.

  • Some schools do not address those falling behind with sufficient urgency.

  • When pupils are learning to decode, reading and re-reading decodable books builds children's back of words that they can read at a glance.

  • Beyond phonics, pupils do not always have sufficient practice in reading aloud and repeatedly to build fluency.

  • Often, pupils who cannot read fluently complete written reading comprehension tasks from extracts.

  • Activities which would support progression in fluency include: reading the text repeatedly, being monitored by an adult when reading aloud, rehearsing reading with prosody, or reading more whole texts to build fluency.

  • The vast majority of schools offer interventions for pupils who are not secure in word reading: these often lack adequate consideration of what would benefit the pupils the most.

  • Some schools carefully plan their curriculum, based on the NC statements which are broken down and sequenced. Where this is less effective, teachers do not know how to move pupils from learning to read to reading to learn.

  • Some schools are clear about how regular reading and developing pupils' knowledge of language and the world leads to children becoming better at reading comprehension.

  • Knowledge which makes pupils become better at reading comprehension includes knowledge of vocabulary, narrative structure and syntactical knowledge, and knowledge of context and ideas in the text.

  • Teachers can support the development of word knowledge by emphasising the relationships between words, and exploring morphology and etymology which supports both comprehension and spelling.

  • Many schools have library visits. Pupils often choose books which are familiar and so teachers and librarians are crucial in encouraging children to widen their diet of books and go beyond their favourites.

  • Whole-school initiatives to raise the status of reading are not always evaluated e.g. rewards for reading.

  • Books which are organised into book bands can sometimes limit pupils' book choices, leaving them uninspired and unlikely to read widely and often

  • Pupils often value time in the day when teachers read aloud. During these sessions, which are often cut short, teachers have the opportunity to model prosody.

  • Some leaders have used Pupil Premium funding to purchase books for children to take home - this addresses the lack of availability of books which some pupils can encounter.

Literature

  • Leaders often have a clear sense of which texts they think are important for children to read. Many schools have a 'canon'.

  • In a significant number of schools, texts for English are not always chosen on their literary merit. Instead, they are chosen for their connection to other areas of the curriculum or pupils' interests. This leads to a disjointed experience of literature.

  • Texts chosen for literary merit can support the acquisition of knowledge which supports pupils with their knowledge of English for both current and future study.

  • Sequencing of literature is not deliberate in the majority of schools. Although texts get harder, it is less clear how texts are intentionally sequenced so pupils build on what they have learned before.

  • When sequencing texts, leaders can consider the themes, genres, forms and background knowledge pupils need.


Impact

  • Pupils are often positive about reading: some are keen to recommend books to others; some talk with confidence about the books they read independently. However, this is not the case for all pupils.

  • Pupils value story time and being read to. Evidence suggests that this is valuable.

  • When talking about their learning, most pupils refer to the skills they learn to complete SATs rather than stories, plays and poems of the curriculum.

  • Many Y6s feel that SATs dominate their curriculum.

  • Although most writing marking follows agreed policies and approaches, gaps in pupils' foundational knowledge often persists. Basic errors are not always corrected and pupils thereby repeat them.

  • Dictation is often not used despite it being potentially useful to develop transcription.

  • In some schools, pupils have a limited understanding of how to improve their spoken language.


Teaching


  • Teaching activities are in the vast majority of cases matched to the curriculum intentions and help pupils learn the content.

  • In a few schools, teachers see the curriculum as guidance rather than specification.

  • Knowledge is not always actively retrieved to support learning.

  • Most schools do not identify common misconceptions in curriculum planning. This leads to teachers being less prepared to address misconceptions when they arise.

  • High-quality models, of sentences and lengthier pieces, are used in some schools to help pupils practise.

  • Leaders have the same ambitions for SEND pupils. Where this is most successful, the curriculum end points are broken down further to give pupils the time to embed knowledge before moving on to more challenging content. In addition, teachers make adaptions and modify resources when needed. They also use appropriate groupings to ensure that pupils can access the content in a suitable sequence.

  • Weak practice for SEND pupils includes when pupils are expected to copy from the board or from TAs without having fully grasped what they are reading or writing. Often, weaker practice reflects a lack of clarity over how best to support pupils.


Assessment


  • Summative assessment is used by most schools to check whether pupils, over time, are learning what they have been taught. It is most successful when its purpose is clear and shared with teachers.

  • Summative assessment, in most schools, informs the design of the curriculum in an unhelpful way. For example, the curriculum is organised to reflect SATs and writing moderation.

  • Often, curriculum planning can miss the component knowledge required for pupils to achieve proficiency in the assessed content.

  • Formative assessment is used by most schools to assess whether the curriculum has been learned. The information gathered from this assessment is used to identify pupils who need additional support or if the teaching sequence requires any adjustments.

  • In many cases, formative assessment does not result in a change in pupils' understanding: mistakes are often repeated. Even if mistakes are addressed, often issues with basic foundational knowledge, such as capital letters and full stops, persist. This results in mistakes being embedded in pupils' long-term memory, making them difficult to unlearn.

  • Assessments which inform decisions about interventions are helpful. It is important to consider whether the data obtained from assessments support the identification of issues which can be addressed through such intervention.

  • It is unclear in some schools how interventions are different from whole-class provision.


Systems


  • English leaders often feel supported in their roles due to the significance given to the subject.

  • Many schools consider Reception as part of whole-school curriculum planning.

  • Weaker curriculum planning often refers to the NC but rarely goes into enough detail to support teachers to understand what pupils should be expected to know and do before new content is taught.

  • Though teachers typically receive phonics training, there is little mention of training beyond phonics - especially for those who are not directly involved in teaching the early stages.

  • Though it is rare for teachers to mention subject associations, there are positive comments about the work of English hubs and their support for early reading.

  • Across trusts, plans are shared and adapted to suit the needs of particular schools.

  • Most schools use commercial plans for different purposes e.g. one for reading for pleasure, another for comprehension etc. This can bring benefits to reducing workload and support teachers who lack expertise. However, considerations are not always made between how the different schemes can work together.

  • Many schools offer catch-up teaching though a small number rely too much on it.

  • Many schools do not provide very much training and support on how to meet the NC requirements. Teachers are consequently often unclear about how to sequence the spoken language curriculum and receive little support with this.

  • It is unnecessary and time-consuming for teachers to evidence pupils' reading through photographs and portfolios.

  • Sometimes, work focuses on text types and comprehension rather than on deepening pupils' understanding of stories.

  • Generic approaches to teaching are taken by some schools, which are unhelpful and can lead to increasing workload. It is important to recognise which activities contribute to pupils' success.

  • In some schools, there is a lack of clarity between curriculum and pedagogy, and about pedagogical content knowledge. In these schools, CPD is often non-subject-specific, and leaders do not take systematic ways of identifying gaps in teachers' subject knowledge.

  • Teaching assistants who lead interventions do not always have the subject knowledge and training to do so effectively.

  • Teacher self-reports are often used to identify next steps in teacher development rather than using a shared model of expertise and deliberate practice to achieve these goals.

  • When schools are not clear about what they want pupils to learn, they can be unclear about how best to support teachers to develop the appropriate subject knowledge.


SECONDARY


Curriculum


  • Most schools teach English regularly and for 3 or 4 hours per week. Some schools increase this time in Year 11.

  • In all of the schools visited, the curriculum matched the scope of the NC. Content is often organised around the texts that the pupils study over time.

  • KS3 seems to now build more carefully and ambitiously on what pupils learned at primary, rather than repeating content in Year 7 as was found in the 2009 report. KS3 prepares pupils for their next steps.

  • The planned curriculum is taught in all schools.

  • All pupils are expected to access the curriculum - including those with SEND and disadvantaged pupils.

  • Pupils are taught in sets in most schools. The great majority study the same texts and curriculum as their peers.

  • For a small number of pupils, leaders recognise they need to provide an alternative pathway with a curriculum that progresses more slowly towards the same end goal. This is because pupils have different starting points.

  • In most schools, leaders are focusing on strengthening the study of non-fiction at KS3. This is both in response to GCSE and to the recognition that such texts offer rich additions to the curriculum.

  • Some schools have weaved together the study of non-fiction texts alongside the texts studied as part of literature.

  • Less-well planned non-fiction study occurs when individual teachers make decisions based on the needs and interests of particular classes rather than meeting curriculum goals.

  • Vocabulary is recognised as an important aspect of the English curriculum. Most schools identify key vocabulary in the texts being studied and many spend time checking this.

  • In some schools, vocabulary is less well defined and there is a focus on learning words in isolation, leading to pupils learning the words in a decontextualised way.

  • The opposite of this involves embedding the rich vocabulary in context and allowing pupils to think, speak and write about the subject and to create their own compositions.

  • Leaders in a small number of schools have considered how to build the curriculum from KS2, especially terms of grammar and punctuation.

  • In many secondary schools, the content of KS2 is not always considered in curriculum planning and opportunities for retrieval and application are not always clearly identified.

  • Some leaders consider how KS3 and beyond can be organised to support study at A-level, and prepare pupils for the demands of KS5. Most consider the links between the concepts across the curriculum and the specifications set out by the exam boards.


Spoken Language


  • Only a small number of schools have identified the components that pupils need to be taught in relation to spoken language. In these schools, leaders have explored the vocabulary and rhetorical devices that pupils need to learn and develop to become successful communicators. Leaders plan opportunities for pupils to see this modelled and to practise the content in different contexts.

  • Decisions relating to the explicit teaching of spoken language are often left to individual teachers.

  • Many schools have recently introduced spoken language assessments.

  • Despite providing increased opportunities for practising spoken language objectives, schools are not always clear about what pupils specifically need to know and practise to get better at speaking.

  • Drama is often offered as a subject which is distinct from English.

  • There are some links between English and drama in most schools. However, drama is rarely considered to be a part of the English curriculum (in the schools visited).

  • The role of drama in English is often regarded as that of a pedagogy rather than as a distinct object of study. There is often a lack of consideration for the outcomes listed as part of the spoken language requirements of the NC.

  • Watching productions is often linked more to the study of text than to the consideration and teaching of dramatic techniques.


Writing


  • The importance of writing is recognised by all of the leaders in the study, and many schools have made recent changes to increase the number of opportunities for pupils to write in English lessons.

  • In a few schools, staff have deliberately planned the progression in writing. They have considered the grammatical structures to revisit and explicitly teach from the primary phases. They have designed a curriculum which builds on pupils' knowledge.

  • In these schools, models from literary texts pupils are studying, and models teachers have composed themselves are used to support pupils.

  • Most schools do not carefully consider (in terms of what should be revisited, practised and developed over time) what pupils have learned in the primary phase and do not check and revisit key knowledge and skills - especially in grammar and writing.

  • Most schools are very aware that pupils' reading can help develop their writing further.

  • In the strongest practice observed in the study, leaders go beyond identifying the vocabulary and structures they want pupils to know and consider how they can be taught most effectively. Precise models and scaffolds are used to ensure that pupils have enough opportunities over time to work on the components of writing, rather than being rushed through more complex composite tasks.

  • Leaders and teachers have a clear understanding of the relationship between studied texts and pupils' development of writing. However, they are often less clear about the specific elements that they want to draw out - especially in syntax and grammar. This results in it being rare to build on prior knowledge.

  • There is also often little consideration of how the development of spoken language and oral composition can support pupils' ability to write and explore ideas in texts more effectively.

  • Although most leaders identify vocabulary which supports pupils to improve their writing over time, they are not always clear about how pupils can achieve this through revisiting and opportunities for application. Recapping unfamiliar vocabulary is not always effective in developing pupils' rich knowledge of vocabulary. Schools should consider the connections between units of work.

  • In a small number of schools, leaders have developed a cohesive approach to teaching. Curriculum planning includes details of when and how to approach new words, opportunities to revisit them over time, and how assessment can explicitly check that pupils are independently using them.

  • Feedback on work often includes feedback on spelling and punctuation. In some schools, these have been carefully considered in terms of how to be taught or recapped. In other schools, spelling needs are often left for individual teachers to determine and address.

  • It is not uncommon to see the same errors repeated between pieces of work - especially the basics such as capital letters and full stops.

  • Schools address such errors in a range of ways. Some are beginning to pre-empt and tackle head on such misconceptions and errors. Pupils, however, often know the conventions they are expected to use but do not do so fluently or accurately. These errors can often be accepted and can go unchallenged.

  • Most schools' curriculums focused on composite tasks or outcomes. Schools do not always carefully identify the knowledge and skills pupils need to be successful. Much of this is left to individual teachers' choice, leading to variability in what is being taught and corrected.

  • It is very uncommon for schools to have considered how to address issues that pupils have with transcription.

  • Sometimes, support for weaker writers means they write less. This can, over time, lead to pupils having less opportunities for practice than they need in order to be successful.

  • Sometimes issues with transcription can be interpreted as a special educational need rather than something that can be addressed using evidence-based methods.


Reading


  • Reading enjoys a high status among all schools in the study. Leaders are aware of its significant role in enabling access across the curriculum.

  • Some leaders choose texts to help pupils develop their reading beyond the English curriculum. Texts are chosen because they are progressively more challenging and introduce pupils to the background knowledge, complex or academic vocabulary and sentence structures that develop their ability to understand them. Such texts include extracts of fiction and non-fictions, short stories and whole-class novels.

  • The limited impact of comprehension strategies is understood by leaders in most schools, who know that teaching such strategies will not alone support pupils' developing understanding.

  • Reading is part of a pupil's day-to-day experience in many schools. This includes reading during tutor time, at the beginning of lessons and in library lessons.

  • The focus on reading for pleasure is rarely pursued at KS4 and KS5.

  • There is variation between school in terms of pupils' attitudes to reading. Most pupils read when it is required but do not make the choice to do so freely. This is often but not always a more common attitude among boys.

  • Unsurprisingly, pupils who find reading difficult are less likely to enjoy reading their own books.

  • In most schools, leaders identify pupils who are still not proficient readers. These are often identified using reading age scores. It is more successful to precisely diagnose what pupils specifically find difficult and use interventions to address this.

  • The most successful schools provide frequent purposeful opportunities for pupils to practise over time and the impact of interventions on individuals is carefully tracked and evaluated. Usually, reading is a key feature of these schools and pupils have opportunities to see reading modelled and to discuss the content.

  • Identifying and addressing reading difficulties can be problematic for some schools. Pupils who are struggling with decoding and fluency do not always make progress because initiatives and interventions are not focused on such difficulties and barriers.

  • The purpose of library lessons have not carefully been considered by many schools. Often, pupils - especially those who find reading difficult - do not choose books that are likely to support their progression in reading, such as those where challenging vocabulary and syntax are encountered.

  • In some schools, phonics-based reading programmes are used; however, some of these are not carefully targeted or specifically tailored to the sounds pupils need to know. There is sometimes little diagnosis of the barriers that pupils face.


Literature


  • Across the study schools, all leaders consider the main ideas, concepts and themes they want pupils to encounter in their study of literature. The most important elements of texts are identified and the curriculum is designed so that pupils can revisit these recurring concepts and themes in different contexts. Leaders think about how texts build pupils' readiness for the texts they will later study.

  • Sophisticated curricular thinking about text choice is present in many schools. Leaders consider vocabulary, syntax and themes, as well as literary merit.

  • Potentially superficial measures of progress, such as reading age, are not relied upon to consider progress - rather consideration is given to how each text builds an understanding of genre, form and theme. The range of texts includes plays, novels, short stories and poems. Leaders consider how these texts connect to one another and prepare pupils for later challenge.

  • In most schools, leaders have planned a curriculum which ensures that pupils revise literary concepts in a range of contexts across KS3; these encounters prepare for success at KS4 and KS5.

  • In the most successful schools, decisions have been made in response to pupils' starting points and common areas of difficulty.

  • In a very few schools, leaders have not considered the knowledge pupils need to take forward from each study of a text. This can lead to some texts appearing disparate or disconnected.

  • Occasionally, decisions about which texts to study at KS3 are not made based on the quality of the text. For example, some choices relate to a text's focus on social justice or its accessibility. This can lead to texts not being chosen based on their literary merit. When this happens, it can pose issues for curriculum cohesion.


Impact


  • In most schools, pupils can accurately recall important information about the literary texts they are studying and draw threads together in relation to themes, genres and ideas.

  • In many of the schools visited, pupils are writing increasingly complex, high-quality work, exploring increasingly complex texts and ideas, and making effective use of the language and structures of the subject.

  • It is not always clear how pupils are getting better at English, especially those at the earliest stages of learning.

  • Most schools seem unsure about how to address prevalent issues, especially those relating to foundational knowledge and skills in reading and writing.

  • Precision teaching is used by some schools for pupils who find reading difficult. This allows for quick catch up.

  • In other schools, broad systems to track or encourage reading are relied on too much which leads to pupils not receiving the precise teaching they require to improve.

  • Success at English is often the main reason for pupils continuing to study the subject at KS5; their enjoyment in the subject stems from their success.


Teaching


  • Leaders in the majority of schools have considered in detail the approaches that will be used to teach the curriculum. Appropriate decisions are made about how to teach the designed curriculum to ensure pupils learn it. Many schools use modelling, retrieval and additional support as a standard part of the lesson.

  • English teams in some schools collaborate on how to make the best uses of teaching approaches. They evaluate their effectiveness in the context of their subject.

  • In some schools, teaching approaches and how they relate to the subject are less well considered. Often, this can lead to a lack of precision between how approaches are selected and well they relate to the content the pupils are learning.

  • In a few schools, teaching approaches are not focused on the content leaders want to the pupils to learn. In these schools, ways of developing pupils' knowledge is not discussed.

  • When GCSE assessments are the focus of curriculum design, pedagogy often focused on getting pupils to practise exam-style questions from the start of Year 7. Whilst it is important for pupils to be prepared, this approach can narrow the subject and limit pupils. Pupils' experiences can be limited to completing PEE or PETAL paragraphs or writing texts which are purely designed around exams.


Assessment


  • Most schools recognise the key issues teachers face when assessing English: namely those relating to workload and the reliability of marking.

  • Many leaders ensure that moderation of assessment takes place, especially at KS4.

  • Many schools reduce the marking load by limiting the number of formal 'data drops' required. They have introduced live marking, whole-class feedback or comparative judgement.

  • Schools generally understand that despite efforts to reduce workload, marking will always be a demanding aspect of teaching English.

  • The purposes of assessment, and how this relates to the form they take, are not always clear.

  • Pupils frequently act on feedback from assessments; however, errors can often be repeated which indicates that feedback is not necessarily having the intended impact.

  • Pupils are much clearer about how to avoid repeating errors when schools carefully identify the knowledge and skills they intend pupils to master and how this can be assessed.

  • Formative assessment is used in some way by most schools. Teachers routinely check pupils' understanding and adapt the next steps of the lesson accordingly. This is most successful when knowledge and likely misconceptions have been carefully considered.

  • Concerns about teachers' workload and how to identify gaps in learning more effectively has resulted in some schools experimenting with more targeted approaches to formative assessment, such as multiple choice questions or in-class quizzes.

  • Formative assessment is less successful when learning checks are limited to a small number of pupils. Very few schools use approaches which allow them to quickly determine misunderstandings across the whole class.

  • There have been significant changes in summative assessment approaches. Many schools recognise the limitations caused by using GCSE criteria to assess content at KS3.

  • In many schools, aware of teacher workload, leaders have reduced the number of summative assessment points in KS3 from 6 points a year to 2 or 3.

  • However, at KS4, many schools carry out a number of 'mock' assessments.

  • Using GCSE criteria to assess KS3 pupils is problematic, even when adaptions have been made. This is because GCSE criteria is based on complex tasks which KS3 children have not yet been taught how to complete and lack the component knowledge and sufficient practice to do so successfully.

  • In many schools, writing activities are limited to GCSE-style writing tasks: they do not provide opportunities for pupils to be taught and practise the components of this over the 5 years of secondary school.

  • GCSEs are designed to sample across a range of knowledge and do not in themselves provide a wide curriculum.

  • In a few schools, GCSE assessment objectives are still central to curriculum design. Much of what pupils are expected to learn relates to GCSE criteria rather than the knowledge pupils need to be taught and have opportunities to practise in a range of contexts. This knowledge and practice is essential in enabling pupils to be successful at meeting such criteria.

  • GCSE-style assessments can make it difficult for teachers to identify what pupils need to know more about. They also reduce pupils' opportunities to practise the fluency they need to achieve.


Systems


  • Most schools value English and its significance in the curriculum. English teams are often given the resources and time they require to provide a whole-school approach to developing reading, writing and spoken language.

  • 'Oracy' - distinct from spoken language - is often seen as a way to support literacy; however, many approaches relate to general teaching and do not consider spoken language as the object of study.


Teacher Education


  • In the vast majority of schools, those teaching English are subject specialists.

  • The development of subject knowledge is, however, often focused on exam marking and moderation rather than developing subject knowledge.

  • Departments in all of the sample schools meet regularly to discuss work.

  • Despite regular team meetings, most schools do not have a coherent plan for ensuring teachers develop the subject knowledge they need. Some schools rely on staff identifying this themselves. This issue is exacerbated when schools are not explicit in their curriculum planning about what needs to be taught.

  • It is often unclear how new teachers or non-specialists can be supported effectively when gaps in their subject knowledge cannot be objectively identified against the requirements of the curriculum.

 










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