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We need targeted support for struggling readers in secondary schools

We need targeted support for struggling readers in secondary schools

(Alamy)

3 min read

As children return to school after the half-term break, there will be much discussion in Westminster about the new and returning faces in government making decisions about the future of education.

This is important, but my concern is more immediate and more practical. Thousands of secondary school children across the country will be dreading returning to lessons because they struggle with reading and find it difficult to keep up in class.

National Key Stage 2 tests show that almost 175,000 (one in four) children started secondary school this year below the expected standard in reading. Evidence suggests that fewer than one in five of these children will go on to get a good GCSE grade in English. Being unable to read well can also lead children to switch off in lessons or be disruptive in the classroom.

Almost 175,000 (one in four) children started secondary school this year below the expected standard in reading

And this problem has only been accentuated by the pandemic. On inspection, we are seeing year seven and year eights whose disrupted education means that they are still catching up on skills they should have learned at primary school.

Some might think that one-in-four year seven children not being able to read well is understandable after all they have been through during the last couple of years. But all children, apart from a very few with particular special educational needs, are capable of being, and should be, proficient readers.

There are lifelong consequences for young people who leave school as poor readers. Adults with low literacy levels are likely to have fewer job opportunities and a lower income. They may struggle with everyday tasks such as reading instructions on medicines, making sense of a train timetable or filling in a job application.

Today, Ofsted has published a report looking at how high-performing secondary schools provide targeted support to their pupils who struggle with reading. Without such support, these children will fall further behind.

We know the pandemic has had a big impact on the teaching of phonics, which is the foundation of fluent reading. Government data published earlier this month shows that just 75 per cent of year one pupils passed the phonics screening check, down from 82 per cent in 2019. Some of these children will still need teaching in phonics when they reach secondary school.

Reading is an essential part of every subject. Children need to be able to read to get to grips with a history or geography textbook. They need to be able to understand their own language before they start learning French or German comprehension. That’s why we put so much emphasis on reading when we inspect schools. 

While it’s natural for political changes to spark discussion, we must not lose sight of what’s happening in classrooms up and down the country. Children need to be able to read so that they can participate both academically and in wider society. 

 

Amanda Spielman, chief inspector at Ofsted.

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