Concerns over latest Ofsted literacy survey

27 January 2011

NIACE’s first concern about Removing barriers to literacy – published Friday, 21 January – is that Ofsted appears to confuse how it reports on literacy work. The narrative does not distinguish enough between the early years when children are developing their language and the adult years when there are very different literacy challenges and appropriate teaching methods.

The second concern relates to what Ofsted reports. In five out of the 22 education and training providers inspected it was found that some learners were unchallenged, sometimes doing the same level of work when there was already evidence (usually qualifications) that learners had already reached this level. If this is the case with nearly a quarter of all education and training providers, NIACE believes this presents a serious challenge for the sector.

The third and final concern is a criticism by Ofsted of the fact that the national tests do nothing about assessing learners’ skills in writing. Given these are computer-marked assessments, NIACE suggests that this is hardly surprising.

Dr Peter Lavender, Deputy Chief Executive of NIACE, said:

“Perhaps the most useful part of this much-needed look at literacy programmes is the suggestion that there are no ‘magic bullets’. What education and training providers need to do is to integrate literacy into vocational programmes where it’s more relevant. They need to ensure that managers understand the barriers people are up against and treat learners as adults. All staff must have specialist training and have small classes, where they can encourage self motivation and enthusiasm among learners. It is essential to ensure that literacy work is part of an institution-wide approach. These points are well made and will provide a platform for development work, provided there are the resources to carry it through.”

“Looking at this important survey from an adult learner perspective, readers might be forgiven for getting cross. You just get the idea in one paragraph and then realise it’s only referring to children. It is not good enough in a national survey to muddle the education of five year olds with those of adults. You wouldn’t expect it in relation to reporting on, for example, art and design.”