In this series of articles, we are looking at Ofsted inspectors’ comments made when inspecting “outstanding” schools.

In this article, we’ll see what those comments were regarding phonics.

Comparison with the National Average

As might be expected for outstanding schools, the percentage of pupils who have passed the Year 1 phonics is above the national average. And it generally is not a one-off.

Attainment in the phonics screening check is consistently above national expectations.

The proportion of pupils achieving the expected standard in the Year 1 phonics screening check has been consistently above the national average for the last three years.

Inspectors also look at those pupils who don’t pass in Year 1. Nearly all of them (but not necessarily 100%) pass by the end of Year 2.

Most of the very small number of pupils not achieving the standard by the end of Year 1 go on to meet it by the end of Year 2.

By the end of Year 2, almost all pupils achieve the expected standard.

So were these pupils above age-related expectations in Reception?

While a fraction of these schools were noted to have pupils who enter Reception with age-related expectations:

Children begin school in early years with broadly typical abilities.

this is far from being the case for a lot of these schools:

From starting points that are below and often well below those typical for their age when they start in the Reception Year…

Children generally start school with skills lower than typically expected for their age. A high proportion of children have underdeveloped speech and a limited vocabulary. A small proportion of children arrive with learning and development well below those typically expected for their age.

A high proportion of children typically join the school in Nursery or Reception with knowledge and skills below those that are typical for their age.

Children begin school in early years with broadly typical abilities. They make increasingly strong progress in Reception and key stage 1…

Children generally enter the school with skills and knowledge below what is typical for their age. By the time they leave Reception, the majority of children achieve in line with national averages.

Given pupils’ often low starting points in Reception, their progress and achievements throughout the school are all the more impressive.

Instead, Ofsted inspectors praise these schools for the rapid progress made through Reception and Key Stage 1.

Click here to view our Guide to Phonics Tests

How did this progress happen?

Ofsted inspectors often give their reasons as to why the progress in Phonics has happened:

Staff promote positive reading habits very well so that reading becomes a frequent and enjoyable part of school life.

This is because phonics teaching is outstanding.

…, due to highly effective teaching by teachers and teaching assistants.

Pupils get off to a strong start in the early years and quickly learn letters and their sounds. This enables them to break down new and tricky words.

…as a result of leaders’ considered work.

This is because phonics is taught systematically, and pupils use their phonics skills accurately when they read books.

Pupils enjoy reading and quickly develop an interest in and a love of books. Pupils’ reading diaries show that they read at home regularly with an adult.

Teachers and teaching assistants support pupils’ reading development well by hearing pupils read regularly, and through the good teaching of phonics skills to pupils in younger year groups.

Pupils get off to a strong start in the early years and quickly learn letters and their sounds. This enables them to break down new and tricky words.

and also the consequences that such high standards of phonics has:

Pupils show a clear progression in their reading skills and read with increasing fluency and expression. The most able pupils confidently explain complex storylines and characters.

Pupils show a clear progression in their reading skills as they move up the school. They enjoy reading regularly and, by the end of Year 6, they have developed a wide range of skills and read as much for pleasure as for learning.

Pupils are typically confident readers who enjoy discussing and exploring books.


We hope that you have enjoyed this article.

This was based on 42 outstanding schools whose Ofsted Inspections Reports were released between September 2018 and January 2019.

For the full set of articles on Ofsted Inspections – click HERE

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