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Preparing for an Ofsted Deep Dive in Reading 

Sheetal Smith, senior leader, shares her knowledge, understanding and experiences of the reading deep dive. 

The new Education Inspection Framework includes a mandatory reading deep dive where inspectors will look at the 7 aspects of early reading (paragraph 298 of the school inspection handbook). Inspectors will focus on how well pupils are taught to read as a main inspection activity as it is important for pupils to learn how to read fluently as quickly as possible; after all ‘fluent readers are able to read and gain knowledge for themselves.’

Department for Education English Hubs 

Before looking at the deep dive in reading, it is important to know that there are 34 Department for Education English Hubs that are able to provide support for excellent teaching in phonics and early language. They focus on supporting the slowest progress children in Reception and Year 1 through action planning, reading audits, funding for training and support and access to a Literacy specialist. 

Letters and Sounds 2007 

The 2007 Letters and Sounds Framework is no longer sufficient to follow as it is not a full programme that sets out in detail how phonics should be taught on a week-by-week basis. It is recommended that schools use a validated Systematic Synthetic Phonics teaching programme (SSP) as it has been designed by experts in the field and has all the relevant resources, reading books and high-quality training that ensure an approach which is ‘rigorous and used with fidelity.’ 

Deep dive in reading 

  • All staff should be trained in the school’s chosen phonics programme and pupils should be taught direct, focused phonics from the beginning of Reception and Key Stage 1 every day. 
  • If pupils fall behind the programme, leaders should ensure that extra practice throughout the day is provided so that they can ‘keep up’ rather than ‘catch up.’ 
  • All resources used should match the phonics programme and be used consistently in all phases.
  • Decodable books are organised in the given sequence in their chosen SSP programme – pupils should not be asked to read books that require them to guess words or deduce meanings from pictures, grammar or clues etc. 
  • Pupils from KS1 and KS2 (Year 3) will be asked to read. Inspectors will concentrate on the lowest 20% and will want to know if a school has a team of expert reading teachers: if the slowest progress readers in key stage 2 can read age-appropriate unseen books with fluency. 
  • The Reading Leader provides high-quality CPD and ensures that all new staff are trained in the programme. 
  • Parents are well-informed and books/phonics folders are taken home. 

Reading in key stage two 

All pupils should pass the phonics screening and be able to read before starting Year 3. If pupils are still learning to read in Key Stage Two, they should remain on the school’s chosen phonics programme. As an English Leader, it is important to observe and monitor the impact of any reading interventions across the school. In some cases, pupils may be able to read but struggle with comprehension. The Education Endowment Foundation provides information on improving reading in Key Stage Two – all of which have a high impact and a low cost to schools. For example, explicitly teaching reading strategies has proven to have an impact on pupils by +6 months. 

Developing a reading culture 

Inspectors will be asking pupils about their reading and assessing whether the school has been able to develop a love for reading. Ensure there is a timetabled slot for reading for pleasure, story-time in all phases and a reading corner in every classroom. Reading should be promoted through the use of the library, author visits and reading events. Many schools ensure that pupils have a decodable reading book and a book from the library (reading book for pleasure) to take home to share with their parents. 

In the early years and KS1, stories, rhymes, songs and poems should be shared regularly and inspectors will ask about what has been chosen to develop children’s vocabulary. Encouraging children in KS2 to read widely and research will develop their vocabulary – you may want to think about book recommendations/book lists and a text-based curriculum where books are chosen from the reading plagues, different cultures and texts which show underrepresented groups. Pupils should also have access to a range of poetry: choral, classic etc. 

Engaging parents 

Not all parents have the time to visit the school for a workshop on reading, but keeping reading high profile is important and providing a newsletter can be extremely useful. In the past, I have written a monthly newsletter to parents about our school’s chosen phonics programme; how they can support their child with reading at home; reading strategies and much more. It has been a useful way to communicate the importance of reading and ensuring that pupils read at home everyday. 

Monitoring 

As an English Leader, it is important to ‘drop-in’ to classrooms and ensure there is consistency between Reception and Key Stage One. It is important to ensure that a tracking system is in place so that pupils that have fallen behind have the opportunity for extra lessons to ‘keep-up.’ It is also important to ensure that all teaching assistants are trained in the programme and that all staff are consistent in their approach. Inspectors will want to see that the school has made reading a priority and ensures every child learns to read in their school. 

Lastly, the deep dive in reading is a team effort. It is important that all leaders and all staff work together to ensure that every child in their school is able to read despite their ability or background. 

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The author

Sheetal Smith

Sheetal is an experienced senior leader in the Primary education sector. Having had a range of leadership roles and completing a number of middle leadership programmes in inner-London schools, she is now at the beginning of her NPQH journey. She has been responsible for many curriculum areas including English, RSE and Assessment and is currently leading Key Stage Two. As well as promoting diversity, equality and mental health, she has always been invested and successful at driving school improvement, curriculum design and achieving the best pupil outcomes through Carol Dweck’s growth mindset approach. She now lives and teaches in Oxfordshire.

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