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Ofsted chief inspector unhappy about low literacy benchmark

  Thursday 15th March 2012

Literacy standards in English primary schools are falling behind those in other countries, Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has warned.

In today’s London speech Sir Wilshaw explained how reading standards have not improved since 2007. In the past week he suggested: “targets for 11-year-olds should be raised”.

Sir Michael Wilshaw promises to "raise the bar" on literacy.

Sir Michael Wilshaw promises to "raise the bar" on literacy.

He said that one in five children do not  reach the standard expected (level 4) at the end of primary school and added that even those who do attain expected standards have no guarantee of going on to get a good GCSE pass in English.

Sir Michael said: “There can be no more important subject than English. It is at the heart of our culture and literacy skills are crucial to pupils’ learning for all subjects. Yet too many pupils fall behind in their literacy early on.”

The latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey in 2009, showed the UK had slipped from 17th to 25th  place in a global assessment of reading standards measured using a sample of 15-year-olds’ test results.

Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union said: “the critical importance of pupils’ educational achievement” was “beyond dispute”.

The teaching unions echoed that big improvements have been made in the past two decades. They accused Ofsted and the government of “playing fast and loose with international data”.

The proportion of children achieving at least Level 4 in English has risen since 1995, when 49% made the grade. Last year, 82% did so, up from 80% the previous year which was the same as in 2007.

Sir Michael Wilshaw a former academy head, said he wants a “no excuses” culture; although improvements have been made, England has “tolerated mediocrity” for too long and radical changes are needed.

The Ofsted chief inspector is set to propose ten steps to raising standards, including a recommendation that the government considers whether Level 4 is a suitably high enough target to provide a foundation for success at secondary school.

The watchdog has pledged to give greater emphasis to the inspection of literacy skills, starting a series of unannounced inspections at primary schools on the training of phonics teaching, a system which focuses on sounds rather than having children try to recognise whole words.

Annalisa Ratti

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