Ofsted’s annual report and literacy
Posted by Jonathan Douglas
This week Christine Gilbert, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, launched the inspectorate’s annual report by identifying its theme:
“…the need to ensure that children, young people and adults can read,
write and do basic arithmetic. With the demise of the National Strategies, it is vital that the importance of the acquisition of good basic skills is not diluted. With nearly three out of ten eleven year olds not reaching level 4 in both English and Maths in 2009, we cannot afford to lose a national focus on effective teaching.”
The annual report is a fascinating state of the nation analysis of the services that support children and learners. The report draws attention to key themes which define the national literacy challenge.
In benchmarking our education system with the best in the world, the report rightly bases its assessment on the fundamental belief that ‘the foundations for good literacy are laid in a child’s early years. Outstanding childcare providers model spoken language well’. There has been some criticism that the report and the work of Ofsted attempt to cover too many areas. In this instance, it is a shame that its focus isn’t wide enough to take in the commissioning of speech and language support services. This is a vital activity in supporting the literacy of a large number of children and adults.
We know that literacy sits at the heart of social inclusion and social mobility. So the fact that the poorer the background of the child or learner, the more likely they are to experience poor learning opportunities is not only an injustice, it is a multiplication of injustice. The report finds that although a higher proportion of childcare settings were ranked good or outstanding than in 2007/8, the quality of childcare is lower overall in deprived areas. The report also highlights the fact that schools with higher proportions of children on free school meals are more likely to be inadequate.
Those who care passionately about the power of literacy to promote social justice therefore need to have a bias to the disadvantaged. The cruel irony is that the systems and opportunities are currently weighted against those who stand to gain most from increasing their literacy skills.
Good levels of basic skills are essential for personal economic well being. The report talks about the increase in demand for learning provision during the downturn, but also the ’resistance’ of some learners to improving their basic skills. ’Resistance’ is an interesting word, suggesting stubborn refusal. The good practice examples highlighted in the report are providers who have success through embedding literacy in vocational and workplace learning or citizenship. This suggests that rather than the ‘resistance’ of learners, the issue is with the sector’s ability to demonstrate relevance. Demand for skills will only increase when learners recognise the relevance of these skills for their aspirations.
All these issues provide a framework for determining areas of future literacy policy. However Christine Gilbert’s opening remarks highlight perhaps the most pressing literacy challenge: the teaching of literacy in the nation’s schools has for the past decade been determined by the National Strategies. What can we learn from this experience? How can teachers’ practice continue to be improved through access to best practice and professional development opportunities, whilst at the same time empowering them to be creative and to respond to the personal needs of learners and communities? How do we support the work and focus of schools on improving literacy standards after the end of the National Strategies?
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