One in three pupils aged 11 cannot read, says Ofsted report

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The Independent Online

One in three children at hundreds of primary schools still cannot read by the age of 11 because of poor teaching standards, it emerged yesterday.

One in three children at hundreds of primary schools still cannot read by the age of 11 because of poor teaching standards, it emerged yesterday.

Seven years after the introduction of a compulsory reading hour in primary education, at least 35 per cent of pupils in 2,235 schools fail to read properly by the time they leave.

David Bell, the chief inspector of schools, said the performance of these schools - one in 10 - which teach about 350,000 pupils in total, was "substantial cause for concern". The report by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, blamed poor teaching.

Mr Bell added that too many schools adopted a "lacklustre" approach to teaching reading. "It is unacceptable that too many children do not learn to read properly because the adults who teach them lack sufficient knowledge to do so effectively," he said. "This might have been understandable a decade ago but not today."

The report said there was "an increasing gulf between those schools that successfully tackle weaknesses in reading and those that do not". Headteachers of what it termed "ineffective schools" often did not know enough about how to teach reading.

In the low-performing schools, too many teachers had low expectations of how quickly pupils could learn to read through phonics - used increasingly in schools. One in four reading lessons was delivered unsatisfactorily, the study concluded, with teaching standards worse among seven to 11-year-olds than younger pupils.

Teachers were criticised for too often leaving the slowest readers with classroom assistants who "did not always have enough confidence and knowledge about teaching reading".

Mr Bell said that he wanted to "nail one fashionable theory" that all would be well if children were "freed from the straitjacket" of the National Literacy Strategy. "This is bunkum," he said. "There is not pleasure in not learning to read and I, for one, do not want to return to the so-called good old days when many more children weren't taught to ready properly."

He also wanted to "nail another myth that it's all to do with the background of the children". He said: "It is simply not good enough for some schools to lay the blame for low reading standards on the children, parents or outside influences."

The report said that schools were also failing to do enough to encourage youngsters to read at home. "In some schools, even able readers were restricted by the school's policy to follow the structure of reading scheme," the report said. It cited the story of one bright girl who took home a reading scheme book and finished it in a couple of days but was told by her teacher she would have to wait a week to change it "because you can only change it on a Tuesday".

Mr Bell also urged parents to do more to encourage their children to read. "Whether it be a brother or a sister, a neighbour or a parent, a book before bedtime or a book on the bus really does go a long way," he said.

Tim Collins, the shadow Education Secretary, said: "For a government that promised so much for education in general and literacy in particular, this makes for dismal reading." Stephen Twigg, the Education minister with responsibility for primary schooling, said the number of schools with more than one in three 11-year-olds struggling to read had fallen from 6,100 since 1997. But he added: "We know there is a tail end of underachievement - schools which could, and should, be doing better, even taking account of their circumstances."

The report called for action to retrain underperforming teachers and increase headteachers' knowledge of how to improve reading standards.

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