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«Leading the teaching of reading National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) Think piece Resource National College for School Leadership ...»

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Inspectors must listen to, among others, lower attaining pupils reading during the inspections of infant, junior, primary and middle schools and should discuss their reading with them. Inspectors will hear the weakest readers in Year 1 and Year 2. There may be occasions when inspectors may also wish to hear lower attaining pupils read in Year 7 and Year 8 in secondary schools. This is to find out how effectively the school is teaching reading and, in particular, how well the school is teaching its weakest readers.

Of course, a vital role for you as headteacher is to ensure that staff have the appropriate knowledge and skills to provide sustained high quality teaching of reading across the school. Two of the standards which come into effect

on 1 September 2012 (DfE, 2012) are that teachers should:

− demonstrate an understanding of and take responsibility for promoting high standards of literacy, articulacy and the correct use of standard English, whatever the teacher’s specialist subject − if teaching early reading, demonstrate a clear understanding of systematic synthetic phonics This provides a clear focus and expectations for initial teacher training and sets expectations for you as a leader in developing the next generation of teachers. Headteachers will also want to ensure, through monitoring and professional development, that all teachers in their schools meet these standards.

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Headteachers should also ensure that the school ethos and climate promotes reading as a core skill. The school environment should explicitly promote reading by ensuring that it is reading-rich. Pupils reading aloud and adults reading aloud to pupils should be the norm. Care should be taken to ensure classrooms, in every phase, exemplify the importance of reading in accessing the whole curriculum. This should be a feature of the environment from the early years to Year 6 in primary schools, and sustained throughout the secondary school. There should also be a constant flow of family learning opportunities to support parents in developing their children’s reading and writing; and parents should be aware of the links between them.

Implications for leadership

As with securing high-quality teaching generally, achieving this for reading specifically is again a whole-school leadership responsibility. It requires the headteacher, senior leaders and middle leaders having the same priorities, expectations and commitment to high quality provision and outcomes for pupils. The key strategies of modelling, monitoring and promoting dialogue across the school apply equally to teaching reading. As headteacher, you will need to enable other leaders to be skilled and knowledgeable about the school’s approach to the teaching of reading and beware of the strengths and weaknesses of provision and outcomes. Other leaders will need the opportunity to lead within and beyond their own classrooms, and be able to monitor and observe practice, and analyse and use performance data. As headteacher you have the responsibility to ensure that other leaders in the school are enabled to lead and fulfil their responsibilities as leaders.

You are also responsible for ensuring that those teachers and support staff, across all phases of education, who are not trained in the teaching of reading are able to access appropriate professional development.

Synthetic phonics is the main component of a wider menu of strategies to support the teaching of reading.

Also the taught reading strategies should recognise pupils’ different learning styles, catering for auditory, visual and kinaesthetic learners. The ultimate goal should be to develop pupils as confident and independent readers and writers. When possible pupils’ home language and heritage should be used as a vehicle for motivating reading progress, reading attainment and reading enjoyment. Where appropriate minority ethnic pupils should see writing in their home or heritage language, for example Creole patois and Asian community languages.

This will help support pupils’ confidence and self-esteem as readers and writers.

The Ofsted report Reading by Six (2010) provides an excellent overview of the characteristics of the effective

leadership of the teaching of reading:

The first, most overt feature of headship in these schools is the determination that children will learn to read. Teaching reading is the avowed core purpose of the schools. All the headteachers take a highly

professional, committed and personal approach to making this happen. They:

− articulate the school’s vision and its ambitions for children’s reading − invest in the best teachers and teaching assistants they can find and scrupulously train or retrain them to teach phonics − appoint the most suitable person to lead and manage the day-to-day teaching of phonics, reading and writing − exert instructional leadership through demonstration, monitoring and dialogue − build cohesive teams with shared values and consistent practice − take responsibility for the achievements of the school and account for them to governors and parents − are obsessive about the quality of children’s learning as well as the extent to which teaching engages and enthuses them.

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All the headteachers were highly visible as well as being uncompromising about the things that were important for their pupils. They recognised the vital importance of a secure grounding in phonics and provided the staffing, resources and structural framework for this to take place. They placed a very strong emphasis on books, reading and writing, sticking to principles that the school owned. They gave their staff the confidence that they were doing things the right way, even if that did not necessarily accord with orthodoxies promoted through local and national initiatives and interventions. Their results tended to endorse their convictions.

Highly effective teaching of reading involves secure and strong early foundations of basic reading skills together with the rich and systematic development of reading across the curriculum supported by high-quality teaching, resources and professional development.


Using the characteristics identified above, undertake an audit of the provision for reading and the attainment and progress of pupils in your current school. What are the strengths, weaknesses and key priorities for improvement?

What strategies could you put in place as a leader that would make a significant positive improvement?

You might also want to use the opportunity of your placement in another school to experience outstanding leadership of the teaching of reading. Again, identify what makes the leadership outstanding and what key strategies you would want to take through to headship.

These are some questions you may want to consider in the above activities:

− How is the school developing a systematic approach to the development of early reading skills?

− How is the school planning for progression in reading to enable children to reach expected levels by the time they leave primary school?

− How is the school developing a learning environment that promotes a love of reading?

− How effectively is the leadership evaluating the impact of the strategies being used to improve reading in school and targeting actions to improve the teaching and learning in reading?


DfE, 2011, The Importance of Phonics: Securing Confident Reading, Nottingham, Department for Education DfE, 2012, Teachers’ Standards, Nottingham, Department for Education.

Available at www.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/publicationDetail/Page1/DFE-00066-2011 [accessed 23 May 2012] Johnston, R & Watson, J, 2005, The Effects of Synthetic Phonics Teaching on Reading and Spelling Attainment, Edinburgh, Scottish Government Ofsted, 2010, Reading by Six: How the Best Schools Do It, London, Ofsted Rose, J, 2006, Independent Review of the Early Teaching of Reading, Nottingham, Department of Education and Skills.

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Membership of the National College gives access to unrivalled development and networking opportunities, professional support and leadership resources.

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