Ofsted’s Research Review of English: Our Top Takeaways for Schools

Designed to bring together a picture of the national context, with their summary of current research into factors that can affect the quality of education in English, the review explores curriculum progression, pedagogy, assessment and leadership. Here are our top takeaways.
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Before the Summer break, OFSTED published the latest in their series of research reviews, this time focused on the teaching and learning of English. Designed to bring together a picture of the national context, with their summary of current research into “…factors that can affect the quality of education in English,” the review explores curriculum progression, pedagogy, assessment and leadership. The review’s launch was greeted with some scepticism and a number of prominent organisations, such as the English and Media Centre, have since written critical responses stating that the review “…is so out of keeping with the rigour and traditions required of the subject.” However, there are still important messages within the review that schools should take heed of. Now we are at the beginning of a new school year, we need to consider what the key implications are for us in school and how they can support our provision to further develop. Here are our top takeaways:

1. Foundational knowledge is key and underpins progression in spoken language, reading and writing The review shares that developing spoken language and vocabulary is critically important, particularly in EYFS but also continuing beyond this. For reading, it emphasises the importance of word reading teaching beginning in Reception and continuing to be a priority throughout KS1, whilst also developing language comprehension and reading behaviours. Meanwhile, in writing, fluent transcription skills are shown to need to be the focus in EYFS and KS1, including using Phonics as the route to spelling and explicit teaching of handwriting from Reception onwards. For each of these modalities, the message is clear that any child, regardless of their age, needs to first become fluent with foundational knowledge first. How secure are pupils in your setting with their foundational knowledge? How do you know?

2. Spoken language development is essential Although often reduced to a focus on speech, the review shares the importance of each school developing a holistic spoken language curriculum that incorporates the physical, linguistic, cognitive and social & emotional aspects of spoken language, including collaboration. To do this, the review recommends that spoken language is carefully planned, across the curriculum, including opportunities for modelling, practise and application, with older pupils also being taught rhetoric. How is spoken language teaching planned and delivered in your setting?

3. Reading depends on word reading, comprehension and engagement, and each depends on the other The review is clear that pupils need to be taught a broad curriculum, accessing increasingly complex texts and being taught strategies to support comprehension of these texts. It unpicks the need to teach each component of comprehension: vocabulary, context knowledge, structure knowledge and syntactical knowledge, however it does state that this should be brief and explicit. Alongside this, the review views that a focus on teaching reading fluency is also necessary, providing opportunities for pupils to ‘read a lot’, engage in repeated readings and read aloud, which will support working memory development. Despite the huge focus the review places on comprehension, it also makes clear that time needs to be given to developing reading for pleasure and engagement, including developing teachers’ knowledge, establishing reading for pleasure pedagogy and creating reading communities. What does the balance look like in your setting? Is fluency prioritised as well as decoding and comprehension? What about reading engagement?

4. Transcription and composition are both crucial for writing, with fluent transcription needing to come first for all pupils The review makes it clear that this includes using phonics and conceptual processes such as etymology when teaching spelling, using diagnostic assessments to identify which part of words children struggle to spell. Once transcription is secured, the review states that attention can be moved towards composition, including grammar, sentence structure and vocabulary. It recommends direct instruction and modelling to secure grammatical knowledge, followed by extensive practice and application. Alongside knowledge of grammar and syntax, research shows pupils need to build context and content knowledge, including knowledge of audience and purpose, text structure and how to write effectively for the reader. Providing opportunities to write with a process led approach (teaching of foundational skills, plan, draft, revise, edit and publish) alongside exploration of models and an eye to motivation is key. Are all pupils fluent with transcription? How is context and content knowledge built ahead of writing?

5. Differentiation does not generally benefit pupils with SEND However, the review shows that targeted teaching does support pupils and should be used to support their specific next steps, which can be gleaned from accurate diagnostic assessment. How do pupils with SEND access targeted teaching? How are focuses chosen and progress monitored?

6. A school’s curriculum depends on well-chosen literature that builds in complexity over time The review is clear that pupils need access to a wide body of literature that is relevant but also broadens their horizons, and to develop an appreciation of literature and its key components, starting in primary but developing further across secondary. Book talk is crucial to developing this, to support pupils to understand how texts are structured and how they are linked and build over time towards analytical writing. As texts increase in difficulty, the review states that texts must be able to be read fluently and understood by pupils, but that they also benefit hugely from more challenging texts being read aloud by staff at a faster pace than usual. What does the book journey look like for your pupils? How have the texts been chosen? Do they increase in complexity?

7. Feedback and assessment need to be used carefully to support learning The review shares that staff feedback, oral or written has the most impact, but particularly so when it is instant, helping pupils to understand their mistakes, know why they made them and how to avoid them. When the time comes for summative assessment, research shows that standardised tests are not always effective as diagnostic tools, but can be useful in identifying which pupils need a diagnostic assessment to follow up. Is feedback immediate and specific in your setting? How are outcomes from summative assessment used to support pupils’ next steps?

The full review is available here, but we know that time is precious, so we have created a summary document to support you which can be downloaded which can be downloaded here. Once you have digested the key messages, we would recommend that you consider how these relate to your specific context. To support this, we have used the review’s key recommendations to create an audit tool, which explores the teaching of English across the school. This can be freely accessed here, however our expert team is also available to support you to audit your practice in school. For more information, please contact laura.lodge@oneeducation.co.uk

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