Literacy Standards Are Slipping Warns Ofsted Chief Sir Michael Wilshaw

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Literacy standards in English schools are falling behind those in other countries, Ofsted's chief inspector is to warn.

Sir Michael Wilshaw will say in a speech that progress in schools has stalled and one in five children do not achieve the expected literacy levels by the end of primary school.

However Sir Michael will note that even achieving the benchmark at the end of primary school is no guarantee of success.

He will say that last year, 45% of pupils who achieved the lower end of Level 4 at age 11 did not attain a Grade C in GCSE English.

He will call for the introduction of a "no-excuses culture" to make improvements.

The issue is tackled by a new Ofsted report, which found that standards in English are not high enough and there has been no overall improvement in primary pupils' learning since 2008.

Sir Michael is expected to tell a group of teachers and literacy experts at Thomas Jones School, Ladbroke Grove, west London: "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. In most cases, if they can't read securely at seven they struggle to catch up as they progress through their school careers.

"As a result, too many young adults lack the functional skills to make their way in the modern world.

"We are no longer a leading country in terms of our literacy performance - others are doing better.

"We don't need more research or more headline-grabbing initiatives which can't be sustained.

"Good leadership is the key to good literacy in schools.

"Above all, this means being passionate about high standards of literacy for every single pupil, and creating a no-excuses culture both for pupils and for staff."

He is set to propose 10 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 Ofsted report, entitled Moving English Forward, found that too few schools encourage a "love of reading", while little attention is given to spelling and handwriting.

The watchdog has pledged to give greater emphasis to the inspection of literacy skills.

Sarah Spencer, Academic Director at the distance learning centre, Oxford College, welcomed the "rallying cry".

"Many of our students come to us to retake their A-levels, after failing to achieve the grades they sought at school," she said. "They feel let down by their school experience, and it's a sad indictment of the teaching at some schools that so many able young people leave with poor literacy skills.

"Lacking such a basic skill as a strong grasp of English can only hold them back in their careers."

Ofsted will also start 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.

The director of the National Literacy Trust, Jonathan Douglas, welcomed the report.

"Addressing the barriers to raising literacy standards must be a top priority for schools, communities and employers.

"A focus on reading, writing, speaking and listening is essential across all subjects and we support the chief inspector in his call to renew a national drive for higher standards and greater engagement with parents," he said.

Chris Keates, general secretary of teachers' union NASUWT, said: "The critical importance of pupils' educational achievement in English is beyond dispute and Ofsted is right to monitor provision in this vital subject.

"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.

"This report fails to set out its findings in the context of the substantial improvements secured for pupils by the skill and dedication of their teachers over the past two decades."

She also accused Ofsted of "playing fast and loose" with international data by "trotting out the same inaccurate claims" despite evidence which showed England was not falling behind other nations.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We want to raise standards in English as a matter of urgency and we are currently looking at this as part of our review of the National Curriculum.

"Having a strong grasp of literacy needs to start with the youngest pupils - which is why we are introducing phonic screen checks at the end of Year 1.

"We want England to move back up the international league tables and for children to leave school with the knowledge that will stand them in good stead for their future careers and adult life."

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Ofsted: Literacy Standards Falling Behind