06th February 2020
EYFS expert Gill Quantrell takes a look at what Ofsted are saying about early reading.
The latest inspection reports contain a section about the teaching of early reading, whether this has been picked out as an area of strength or an area to develop. Ofsted’s Deputy Director for Early Education, Gill Jones, said: ‘We’ve made the early reading deep dive mandatory because it’s so important that children learn to read fluently as quickly as possible.’ What developments in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) are inspectors looking for, and how does reading fit into these changes?
The School inspection handbook states that ‘During all inspections of infant, junior, primary and lower-middle schools, inspectors must focus on how well pupils are taught to read as a main inspection activity.’ In paragraph 298, it gives the seven aspects of early reading that will be evaluated during an inspection. This can be found in the School inspection handbook if you haven’t seen it already.
The inspectors will want to see that reading is a top priority across the school for all children ‘regardless of their background, needs or abilities.’ In the EYFS there are four primary concerns that Ofsted expects to see addressed.
In her Ofsted blog, Gill Jones has said that inspectors will consider how ‘direct phonics teaching is taught every day… However, we do not expect to see phonics in ‘continuous provision’ activities.’ She has also said that inspectors would not look for ‘phonics lessons’ in nursery classes.
Every EYFS class is unique and there is no one right way of teaching reading. Getting this right for you, your children and your school can be a big challenge. Inspectors will not expect to see any particular style of planning, teaching or assessing. However, whatever your approach to early years teaching, it is clear that phonics and reading need to have a high priority, especially in Reception. It is not just about being ‘Ofsted ready’, but about embedding a culture where books, vocabulary and reading take top priority. Short, focused, daily phonics sessions are crucial in developing these reading skills, but supporting children to become independent readers who love reading is undoubtedly our ultimate goal. The Reading Agency Reading facts researched the benefits of reading and found ‘that reading for pleasure can promote better health and wellbeing, aids in building social connections and relationships with others and is associated with a range of factors that help increase the chances of social mobility.’
Raising the profile of reading
Ensuring that reading remains a priority in your early years curriculum and setting is one way to embed a love of reading in your students. Here are some practical ideas to consider:
Developing a culture of reading doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t just happen in the classroom. We need to engage families to get involved, which can be a challenge. The National Literacy Trust published a report in 2007 – Why Families Matter to Literacy – to show the impact that parents can have on their child’s motivation to learn. Their research found that there is ‘ample evidence that parents who promote reading as a valuable and worthwhile activity have children who are motivated to read for pleasure.’ The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) also found that parents who are actively involved in their child’s learning before school can boost their progress by up to 5 months. With this in mind, the government has set up a campaign called Hungry Little Minds to help parents support their child’s development.
A critical part of supporting early reading skills is to improve children’s language and communication skills and create a language-rich environment. It is especially important to do this in Nursery. More so than ever, children are starting Nursery with a variety of communication and language needs. Working with speech and language teams has become a crucial part of a Nursery teacher’s role.
Teachers will be pleased to hear that Gill Jones has said that inspectors ‘do not expect to see phonics lessons’ in pre-Reception settings. This means that Nursery teachers can focus on developing children’s speaking and listening skills within their play and take time to work with children on skills that are relevant to their development. Working with small groups or individuals to read stories, play games or sing nursery rhymes and counting songs is essential, especially for those children who haven’t experienced this at home. To develop children’s listening skills and their awareness of phonics, there are activities in Phase One Letters and Sounds that will help support this. There are five phases of phonics children need to be taught before the end of Year 1. Phase One is designed to support children to develop sound awareness in readiness for learning the skills needed for reading and spelling. However, phonics teaching often starts in Phase Two, learning phonemes and graphemes. Children need to develop listening skills and the ability to tune into and discriminate between sounds before they start to learn letter sounds. The seven aspects of Phase One in Letters and Sounds give lots of activities that can be incorporated into the day or games that can be played in small groups.
Although the layout of classrooms and outdoor learning spaces can be crucial to supporting talk, a language-rich environment is primarily about the importance of having high quality and meaningful interactions with all children. Having a good understanding of child development and a strong knowledge of the children is vital to support this. Here are some ideas to consider:
For more information on quality interactions with children and developing communication friendly spaces, I suggest reading Julie Fisher’s book Interacting or Interfering Improving interactions in the early years and The Communication Friendly Spaces Approach by Elizabeth Jarman. Another useful site to visit to support language development is The Communication Trust.
The Oxford University Press recently published a report which shows the importance of actively promoting talking and reading in school. After surveying teachers, they reported that by Year 1, 49% of pupils ‘have limited vocabulary to the extent that it affects their learning.’ They also found that ‘93% of primary school teachers believe a lack of time reading for pleasure is the root cause of the word gap.’ Why closing the word gap matters: The Oxford Language Report – Oxford Education
Early reading is a significant focus for Ofsted, but with good reason. As early years teachers, we can make a real difference. If we can work to involve parents early on and create a culture where communication, language and reading skills are highly valued, we can support all children to be successful lifelong learners.