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Reading in secondary schools: Ofsted, research and Rooted in Reading

Below is a series of quotations from key documents about the importance of reading for pleasure. My comments in italics suggest ways in which Rooted in Reading can meet the need or develop the skills identified in the quotation.

The framework for school inspection June 2012

When evaluating the achievement of pupils, inspectors consider how well:

Pupils develop a range of skills, including reading, writing, communication and mathematical skills, and how they apply these across the curriculum

the standards attained by pupils by the time they leave the school, including their standards in reading, writing and mathematics

When evaluating the quality of teaching in the school, inspectors will consider the extent to which:

reading, writing  communication and mathematics are well taught

The passports all provide excellent evidence of standards and progress in reading. The range is designed with 12 different titles that make it suitable for readers (and pre-readers) of all ages, making it a good tool for the systematic development of reading.

Research evidence on reading for pleasure Education Standards Research Team May 2012

Another example is ‘Rooted in reading’ which is a reading promotion project offering primary and secondary school students a suite of 12 reading ‘passports’ to encourage reading for pleasure. It covers a whole range of ages from children leaning to read through to sixth form students. After reading a book, children complete an entry that takes the form of a short review in their passport. The student, teacher, school or public librarian can then stamp their passport with the project’s tree logo to endorse their reading. A small- scale evaluation in 46 schools in Lincolnshire found that both teachers and pupils reported the amount of time the children spent reading, and their enjoyment of reading had increased since the reading passports had been in use. The most positive responses came from students in an urban primary school on a deprived estate whose attainment level was below both national and local authority means (Willshaw 2012).

This ESARD report specifically cites Rooted in Reading as a reading promotion which incentivises pupils to read for pleasure.

Moving English Forward Ofsted March 2012

The survey found that too few schools gave enough thought to ways of encouraging the love of reading, and a sizeable minority of pupils failed to reach national expectations in reading.

All schools should:

  1. develop policies to promote reading for enjoyment throughout the school

Some of the effective individual activities noted during the survey included:

a reading passport or record that moved with the pupil between primary and secondary school, giving the Year 7 teacher good, early information about each pupil’s reading habits

Reading for pleasure

  1. There has been considerable recent concern about an apparent decline in reading for pleasure. Evidence includes previous Ofsted reports, international surveys and the Evening Standard reading campaign. Ofsted’s evidence from English surveys can be summarised as follows. In too many schools there is no coherent policy on reading overall; schools put in place numerous programmes to support reading, especially for weak readers, but do not have an overall conception of what makes a good reader. In recent years the view has developed, especially in secondary schools, that there is not enough curriculum time to focus on wider reading or reading for pleasure. Inspectors also noted the loss of once popular and effective strategies such as reading stories to younger children, listening to children read, and the sharing of complete novels with junior age pupils.

The question arises: is studying holiday brochures or writing letters of complaint as central to English as reading novels and poems?

However, it remains the case that many secondary schools include only one unit of work in each year of Key Stage 3 that focuses on the class reading of a novel. This approach does introduce students to a good-quality text that they might not otherwise read. However, if badly taught, the “class reader” can be a dull and slow business, discouraging the more able readers who might have finished the book themselves at home in a couple of days. Schools need to consider more imaginative approaches to teaching novels and to introducing pupils to a wider range of imaginative texts across Key Stage 3. Does every page have to be read as a class?

Too few schools currently develop reading skills effectively across the curriculum. Inspectors rarely see the direct teaching of skills such as skimming, scanning and reading for detail (including on the internet); using the index and glossary; identifying key points and making notes; summarising; or using more than one source. There is also a lack of extended reading in subjects other than English, where use is commonly made of extracts and where teachers are less aware of approaches that might help pupils to read effectively and make sense of what they are reading.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education recently reported that “schools should be developing cross-departmental strategies to develop literacy” and recommended that Ofsted should look “more closely at this”. In response, Ofsted has produced training materials for all inspectors and will be evaluating the extent to which schools can demonstrate a whole-school

commitment to improving pupils’ literacy during whole-school inspections.

The Rooted in Reading Principles (see earlier post) could form a central plank of the policies mentioned here as they provide a clear conception of what constitutes a good reader. The passport referred to above is the Transition Passport, used in several of the schools cited in this report. 

Rooted in Reading explicitly encourages the reading of novels and poetry.

‘Making English real’ – creating independent learners in English: The Peele Community College Ofsted October 2011

In addition, the Local Authority provided training and produced a suite of materials to support students’ independent reading, including a range of well-produced booklets to encourage reading inside and beyond school, such as a Key Stage 2 to 3 transition booklet and a sixth form wider reading booklet. There is also a ‘Personal Reading Diary’ that aims to support students’ reading skills, such as explaining the writer’s purpose, linking text to a wider social and cultural background, and explaining why writers choose to shape their work in particular ways. Another booklet, the ‘Reading Passport’, encourages students to read a whole range of different texts and to reflect on them in relatively simple ways. The suite of booklets supports reading at all levels from Key Stage 2 and they are focused on encouraging students to read independently and to reflect on what they have read and improve their reading skills.

This extract from an Ofsted Good Practice paper, refers specifically to Rooted in Reading, though they are not allowed to refer to it by name as it is deemed a commercial product. The project also meets the needs of pre-school children and their parents and those in KS1.

Criteria for English Survey Visits Ofsted 2010

AchievementOutstandingThey are very keen readers and show a mature understanding of a wide range of challenging texts, both traditional and contemporary.GoodThey enjoy reading a wide range of texts and can talk and write with understanding about them.SatisfactoryThey usually enjoy reading the texts introduced by teachers in school but need support to understand more complex texts and rarely choose to extend their reading independently.InadequateThey do not choose to read for pleasure and show limited understanding when talking about their reading.

Quality of teachingOutstandingThey have a detailed knowledge of texts and use this well to extend pupils’ independent reading.GoodTeachers share their understanding of a wide range of classic and contemporary texts and use this to stimulate pupils’ wider, independent reading.

The curriculum in EnglishOutstandingIndependent learning and wide reading are very well promotedGoodIndependent study and wider reading are well integrated into schemes of work.

Rooted in Reading will help schools to develop many of the very useful features identified in these comments by encouraging the reading of a wide range of texts and because of the systematic, strategic nature of the project.

Excellence in English Ofsted May 2011

The curriculum in each of these schools gave a high profile to reading for pleasure. International comparisons indicate that although most pupils in English schools are competent in their reading at secondary school age, their interest and commitment decline substantially. Schools that take the business of reading for pleasure seriously, where teachers read, talk with enthusiasm and recommend books, and where provision for reading is planned carefully, are more likely to succeed with their pupils’ reading. This success was seen in the survey schools, both in good test results and an enthusiasm for reading beyond the classroom.

These sophisticated processes can be very effectively supported through the use of Rooted in Reading.

Removing Barriers to Literacy Ofsted January 2011

Another highly successful secondary school raised standards in reading by having a designated weekly reading session for the whole school.

As a result of monitoring, the most successful secondary schools visited had made incremental changes to meet individuals’ needs more effectively. These changes included the following:

  1. introducing additional dedicated library lessons or reading time

  2. ensuring that all Year 7 students had a reading book and that personal reading took place at specified times, for example, at tutor time.

Reading passports provide an ideal mechanism for demonstrating that this weekly reading time is being productively used.

English at the Crossroads Ofsted June 2009

Ofsted’s previous report on English found that ‘many pupils are reading less widely for pleasure than previously’. This was supported by the findings of an international reading survey which showed that enjoyment amongst pupils in England was poor when compared with many other countries, and had declined since 2001.

At secondary level, the approach to independent reading remained largely unaltered since the previous English report. At best, specific plans to develop students’ independent reading were confined to Year 7. Some schools persevered with ‘library lessons’ where the students read silently. These sessions rarely included time to discuss or promote books and other written material and therefore did not help to develop a reading community within the school.

Although the schools visited routinely exhorted pupils to read widely, only the best gave this enough curriculum time or used it to promote and monitor pupils’ wider reading outside school.

This interactive discussion and promotion of books fits perfectly with the reading passports.

If you would like to find out more about Rooted in Reading or order some passports, please contact Steve Willshaw on Twitter @stevewillshaw or download the order form from here.

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