Select Committee on Education and Skills First Special Report

Appendix 2

Government's response to the Eighth Report from the Education and Skills Committee, Session 2004-05.

We would like to thank the Select Committee for their full and incisive report. Like the Committee we believe that the ability to read is the key to educational achievement, and we are absolutely committed to building on the good progress that has already been made in this critical area. We support the Committee's argument that improving further the teaching of reading depends on a number of important elements: securing literacy skills early in a child's development; engaging parents; inspiring a love of reading; ensuring that every child has the tailored teaching and support they need; and developing teachers' skills and awareness of the most effective teaching methodologies. In addition to its general conclusions, the committee made a number of specific recommendations to which we have provided responses below.

The Government should undertake an immediate review of the National Literacy Strategy. This should determine whether the current prescriptions and recommendations are the best available methodology for the teaching of reading in primary schools. We therefore strongly urge the DfES to commission a large scale comparative study, comparing the National Literacy Strategy with 'phonics fast and first' approaches.

The National Literacy Strategy, now the Primary National Strategy, has an excellent track record in raising standards in literacy. Today standards of English in our primary schools are the highest they have ever been. The approach to teaching reading advocated by the Primary National Strategy is based on high quality national and international research, and places a strong emphasis and early focus on the teaching of synthetic phonics, alongside other teaching strategies that support word recognition, understanding context and knowledge of grammar.

One of the core strengths of the National Literacy Strategy, now the Primary National Strategy, has been its evolution to take account of the latest developments. We believe the time is now right to renew the National Literacy Strategy Framework for Teaching to ensure that it fully reflects the latest research and practice, and to bring it in line with the broader developments within the Strategy itself that have occurred since the Framework was published in 1998. We are therefore committed to developing and embedding a renewed Literacy Framework for teaching, with opportunities for associated professional development, in all schools from September 2006.

We agree with the Select Committee that at this stage we need further evidence and clarification about the relative merits of different approaches to teaching reading, and believe that this analysis is critical to our work to renew the Literacy Framework set out above. Synthetic phonics is already a key element in the Primary National Strategy and the debate now centres not on whether to teach phonics but how. Our ambition is to ensure that even more children are able not only to decode the words on the page, but understand and appreciate what they are reading. We have therefore asked Jim Rose, former Director of Inspection at Ofsted, to conduct an independent review of the full range of best practice in the teaching of early reading and the strategies that best support children who have fallen behind in reading. This will address the issue of synthetic phonics in the context of a broad range of teaching strategies designed to raise standards in reading.

The review will provide interim findings by November this year, with a full report early in 2006, and will consider, through examination of the available evidence and engagement with the teaching profession and education experts:

a)  What our expectations of best practice in the teaching of early reading and synthetic phonics should be for primary schools and early years settings, including both the content and the pace of teaching;

b)  How this relates to the development of the birth to five framework and the ongoing development and renewal of the National Literacy Framework for teaching;

c)  What range of provision best supports children with significant literacy difficulties and enables them to catch up with their peers, and the relationship of such targeted intervention programmes with synthetic phonics teaching.

In addition, in conducting his review, Jim Rose will have the opportunity to draw on the findings of an independent systematic literature review of phonics use in the teaching and application of reading and spelling which we have commissioned from Professor Greg Brooks and Carole Torgerson. This delivers on the public commitment we made, following an independently chaired seminar of key researchers and practitioners in phonics teaching held by the Department in 2003, to publish an analysis of existing research on phonics teaching methodologies. The aim of the literature review is to identify what is known from existing literature about how effective different approaches to phonics teaching are in comparison with each other, including the specific area of analytic versus synthetic phonics. Findings are to be published later this year.

As part of his review, Jim Rose, will be conducting a full analysis of the evidence already available of what is working now in schools and early years settings. He will be commissioning Ofsted to undertake some rapid review work to observe the features of "best practice" in synthetic phonics and in using the National Literacy framework for teaching. The findings of this rapid review work will be a key piece of evidence for Jim Rose to draw on in his final report.

We are also determined to address issues not only of design, but also of implementation. To this end we will be looking to examine the practical questions of how we build on the current implementation of phonics teaching, through a pilot in 200 schools and early years settings from September. The pilots will be based on the Primary National Strategy's 'Playing with Sounds' programme, which has all the key components of a synthetic phonics programme, and will provide a vehicle to examine a number of different issues raised in the debate thus far, such as the pace of phonics teaching in the Foundation Stage, the application of phonics through play based approaches to learning, and the ongoing support and training needed to build capacity in early literacy. We will ensure that the work in the pilots is informed by any interim recommendations from Jim Rose and conversely that he is able to draw on findings from the pilots in his final report.

Overall we believe that the combination of the three measures that have been established—an independent review of the existing evidence, a rapid survey of what is working in the field, and extensive pilots focusing on issues of implementation—will achieve clarity around what best practice is and how it can be delivered most effectively. When we have a clear set of recommendations from this review and pilot work we will be keen to act on this advice immediately. We are concerned that a large scale trial, which would perpetuate an artificially rigid distinction between different approaches to teaching reading, would slow this process down.

The DfES should commission an independent evaluation of the trends in reading standards among primary school children which would make clear the scale and nature of the problem faced, and provide a further basis for policy work.

The National Curriculum tests are a highly effective means of assessing progress of children against the standards of the national curriculum. Within that context, the QCA processes for maintaining standards have been submitted to rigorous independent scrutiny and have been found to be among the best in the world. We are also now able to undertake more sophisticated analyses of test scripts to identify strengths and weaknesses in teaching and learning at both a national and a schools level. This information is invaluable to schools in shaping their teaching and learning and for the Department in developing policy.

The QCA works constantly to refine and improve their procedures for maintaining test standards over time. The procedures are complex and serve the primary purpose of National Curriculum tests which is to measure the progress of each individual pupil against National Curriculum expectations, rather than to measure aggregate standards over time.

In addition to the National Curriculum tests, international surveys such as the Progress in Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) provide independent benchmarks and analysis of reading trends. Preparations are now underway for the next study in 2006. We are also able to turn to independent Ofsted evaluations which provide plentiful quantitative and qualitative evidence on the scale and the nature of the challenges.

In light of both the range and quality of the information currently available to assess trends in reading standards, we do not believe that a further independent evaluation is necessary in this area.

The DfES should work with the Teacher Training Agency to review ITT courses, ensuring that teachers are fully aware of different approaches to the teaching of reading, and what the research evidence says about the effectiveness of those different methods. We further recommend that institutions offering ITT should include modules about the literacy needs of children at different stages of the process of learning to read within the current 5 to 11 age span and that programmes of continuing professional development should be made available to teachers already in service.

The National Strategies and the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) already work very closely together to ensure that through Initial Teacher Training teachers gain a full understanding of the teaching of literacy and reading for children at all stages of their development. At primary level all teacher training institutes have been visited within the last two years to ensure that training programmes, including those for reading, are in line with the National Strategies approaches.

Ofsted findings suggest that this close working between the National Strategies and the TTA is paying dividends. In 2003 Ofsted reported on quality and standards in primary initial teacher training, based on inspection findings from 1998-2002. They reported that trainees' subject knowledge and the quality of training in English had improved significantly over the four year period.

In 2001-2002 the subject knowledge of trainees in English was judged to be good or better in 80% of cases. At the same time the quality of training in English was rated good or better in 90% of cases, and coverage of the NLS was found to "always good and often very good."

An ongoing commitment to the professional development of teachers is a cornerstone of the National Strategies' approach to raising standards in teaching and learning. This year we are offering 75,000 days of training for teachers in English. A specific focus this year will be to offer 1 day training in reading and phonics to two teachers from every school.

Moving forward we will work closely with the TTA to ensure that ITT programmes are able fully to take account of the findings of Jim Rose's independent review as well as our wider work to renew the National Literacy Strategy Framework for Teaching. Similarly the considerable training and professional development programmes offered to in service teachers through the Primary National Strategy will be revised accordingly.

There should be continued Government investment in training at all levels in the Early Years sector.

We fully support this recommendation and have a range of activity already underway. For 2004-06 we have provided local authorities with £129.9 million to undertake a range of workforce training and development activities for the early years sector. These activities include the provision of sufficient training:

  • to meet the requirements of the National Standards for Under Eights Day Care and Childminding; and
  • to ensure that Foundation Stage practitioners receive an average of four days' training and development a year.

We have introduced the early years sector endorsed Foundation Degree for those working in the sector. This confers 'senior practitioner' status on those successfully completing it. Take-up to date has been very encouraging. A recent evaluation of the Foundation Degree showed that employers' views of it were overwhelmingly positive. They felt it met a need for early years' workers, offered a career pathway and provided recognition for workers and the sector as a whole.

We have also piloted an employment based early years registered teacher programme for those working in the early years who wish to continue in the sector as qualified teachers.

We have introduced a new qualification, the National Professional Qualification for Integrated Centre Leadership, for leaders within multi-agency, early years settings. The programme lasts for one year and we expect around 400 people to undertake the qualification from September 2005.

As part of the current consultation on the Children's Workforce Strategy, we are seeking views on a range of proposals we have made for developing the early years and childcare workforce to meet the challenges of the ten year strategy for childcare. Following the consultation, we will be working closely with the newly-established Children's Workforce Development Council and the Teacher Training Agency to agree with HM Treasury a work programme for implementing the agreed outcomes from the consultation.

Every setting outside a home which offers early education should have a trained teacher on its staff.

The latest Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) research report sets out that children in settings which have staff with higher qualifications, and particularly qualified teachers (QTS), made better progress and contributed to better outcomes for children. We have therefore already taken steps to ensure QTS teachers continue to be assigned to every nursery and reception class in a school in order to directly provide and supervise the teaching and the learning opportunities for children in the setting and we have made this clear in the planned Schools Workforce Pay and Conditions document. We also continue to ensure that non-maintained early education settings have access to QTS teachers with a ratio of 1 teacher to every 10 settings.

At present, it is a requirement of designation that a children's centre should have a minimum of 0.5 QTS teacher involvement. In the Children's Workforce Strategy, published in April for consultation until 22 July, it is proposed that there should be an early years professional in every children's centre by 2010 and in every full day care setting by 2015. It is proposed that the Children's Workforce Development Council and the Teacher Development Agency should work together to produce a coherent set of occupational and professional standards for early years practitioners at all levels. If adopted, these proposals would be likely to have some effect on the future staffing of children's centres and full day care settings.

Government must ensure that suitable programmes are available to all those children who require intensive support, and that they are delivered by highly qualified professionals.

Through the Primary National Strategy we have made a comprehensive suite of targeted intervention programmes available to schools to help those pupils who have fallen behind. Ofsted's 2005 report on the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies says that most schools make use of these intervention programmes to support pupils with difficulties, with many opting to use Early Literacy Support and Further Literacy Support. The report states that "Headteachers are confident that the pupils involved have made progress".

We are building on the support currently on offer in two ways. We are aware, both as a result of Ofsted monitoring and our own evaluations, that there is more work to do to strengthen the management and leadership of effective intervention to support children who have fallen behind their peers. This is a major focus for this year and we are developing materials and support for school leaders and managers to help them plan and develop their intervention and targeted support work better.

We also realise that there is more work needed to identify the most successful approaches to supporting children with very significant difficulties in literacy. These are children who frequently have a range of Special Education Needs, and who for a variety of social, educational or emotional reasons, need a different kind and intensity of support to get them reading and writing.

The KPMG Foundation is establishing a project with the Institute of Education and a range of charitable and corporate funders, to provide Reading Recovery to children in disadvantaged areas. Reading Recovery is a programme which has a strong track record in helping this particular group of children, and we are keen to take the opportunity presented by the KPMG Foundation's generous offer to consider a range of issues around the implementation and delivery of targeted support in literacy to children facing very significant difficulties. We are therefore making £5 million available to the project, which as a whole will provide intensive reading support to 4000 children over three years who experience the most significant difficulties in literacy, and will look to trial a range of implementation models with a view to achieving a sustainable and cost effective approach to delivering this type of provision in the future.

To strengthen our approach in this area further we have asked Jim Rose, as part of his wider review, to consider the range of provision needed to support children with literacy difficulties, and we will be building his findings into the Primary National Strategy plan for 2006-07.

We recommend that the DfES commission further research in the area of oral phonological awareness training, to determine the effectiveness of the intensive support programmes comprised within the National Literacy Strategy, compared to other "catch up" programmes.

We will ask Jim Rose to consider existing research on the strength of oral phonological awareness training as part of his independent review of best practice in the teaching of reading.

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