Developing pupils’ English reading skills from 10-14 years of age
Improving pupils’ reading skills is a ministerial priority and this report was written following a request from the Minister for Education in his 2022-2023 remit letter to Estyn. We visited 23 schools across Wales, including primary, secondary and all-age schools, as well as analysing evidence from 98 core inspections carried out between January 2021 and October 2022.
School leaders should:
- Provide staff with high-quality professional learning about evidence-based strategies to develop pupils’ reading skills across the curriculum
- Monitor and evaluate robustly the impact of reading strategies and interventions
- Plan within their cluster for the progressive development of pupils’ reading skills from Year 6 to Year 7, including making appropriate use of feedback and progress reports from personalised assessments
Teachers and classroom-based support staff should:
- Plan meaningful and engaging opportunities for pupils to develop their reading skills progressively
- Use high-quality, suitably challenging texts to develop pupils’ reading skills alongside teaching the strategies pupils need to access and engage with these texts
School improvement partners should:
- Work together closely to ensure greater consistency and synergy in professional learning opportunities around reading for school leaders, teachers and teaching assistants
The Welsh Government should:
- Continue to promote and develop the whole-school approach to oracy and reading toolkit
What our thematic review said
Evidence from the schools in our sample suggested that the pandemic had a negative impact on pupils’ reading skills, especially those disadvantaged by poverty, but standards of reading are improving again, particularly in schools which have identified specific skills deficits and are focusing their provision on filling these gaps.
Many 10 to 14-year-olds use basic reading skills well and around half are developing advanced reading skills confidently. However, a higher proportion are doing so in the upper primary phase than in the lower secondary phase. In general, primary teachers have a strong focus on developing pupils’ reading skills and use appropriate strategies to achieve this. In secondary schools, most teachers focus on developing pupils’ subject knowledge, understanding and skills. It is more challenging to plan and co-ordinate the development of pupils’ reading skills well across the curriculum in the secondary phase.
Most primary schools and many secondary schools in the sample have identified evidence-based strategies to develop pupils’ reading skills, such as pre-teaching unfamiliar vocabulary or questioning pupils carefully to check their understanding. However, only a minority of secondary schools are implementing these strategies consistently across the curriculum.
Where provision is strongest, there is a good balance of teaching approaches to develop pupils’ reading skills, including guided reading, shared reading, reciprocal reading and independent reading. Most primary schools provide regular meaningful opportunities for pupils to develop reading skills, but only a minority of secondary schools do so.
In both phases, only a minority of leaders are monitoring and evaluating the impact of reading strategies rigorously enough. Very few school clusters plan effectively for the development of pupils’ reading skills from Year 6 into Year 7.
The majority of primary schools and a few secondary schools in the sample are developing a reading culture in which reading for pleasure is a priority alongside learning to read and reading to learn. The support of senior leaders is an essential element in the effectiveness of these initiatives.
The key features of an effective programme to develop pupils’ reading skills can be found in appendix 2 of the full report.
The key elements in developing a reading culture can be found in appendix 3 of the full report.