Literacy inquiry 2011-12

In 2011-2012, the APPG conducted an inquiry into the way that literacy is taught in schools.  Further details can be seen below.


Download the summary of responses to the APPG’s literacy inquiry

Download the APPG for Education’s Report of the Inquiry into Overcoming the Barriers to Literacy


The APPG recommends that to raise literacy standards, a well-rounded reading culture needs to be encouraged.

To achieve this, matched phonics funding should be re-directed so that schools are free to adopt the resources and programmes their pupils need (including the highly effective and valued one-to-one reading tuition). In addition, there needs to be: more in-depth teacher training; improved support for the transition between primary and secondary school; greater support for literacy difficulties at secondary schools; acknowledging the growing value of digital literacy, especially in motivating boys to read; and a community approach to literacy (including promoting libraries and parental involvement).

Ofsted’s March 2012 report, Moving English forward, highlighted a number of the APPG’s recommendations, in particular noting:

72. …The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education recently reported that ‘schools should be developing cross-departmental strategies to develop literacy’ and recommended that Ofsted should look ‘more closely at this’. In response, Ofsted has produced training materials for all inspectors and will be evaluating the extent to which schools can demonstrate a whole-school commitment to improving pupils’ literacy during whole-school inspections…

113. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education has also reported:

‘Teaching methods should bring pleasure and reward to children, including to those who are just beginning to make sense of the letters on the page. The teachers who responded to the Inquiry felt that unless children have developed as readers in the fullest sense and are personally motivated to read, they will not progress beyond Level 3 or 4 by the age of 11, and their reading capacity could even regress… The active encouragement of reading for pleasure should be a core part of every child’s curriculum entitlement because extensive reading and exposure to a wide range of texts make a huge contribution to students’ educational achievement.’

Given that Ofsted made similar recommendations in its 2005 report, it is clear that schools have been slow to take appropriate action. One reason is that national tests and examinations do not in general assess pupils’ wider reading skills…

146. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education also expressed concerns about secondary literacy.

‘In the APPGE’s survey, secondary school teachers identified 57% of their pupils as having weak or very weak literacy skills, compared to the significantly lower 39% of pupils identified by primary school teachers. Nevertheless, across secondary schools, only 6% indicated that there should be a change in the extent to which literacy is incorporated into lessons. Instead, secondary school teachers were more likely to prefer the option of one-to-one support for struggling pupils. This suggests that it is more difficult for secondary schools to tackle literacy as a distinct issue.’

This suggests that many secondary teachers do not even accept that they have a responsibility for improving literacy within their own subject. Given the expectation in the revised Teaching Standards that all teachers will promote literacy and the use of Standard English, it seems clear that more effective training is now needed in many schools…

148. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education goes on to make the point that:

‘Headteachers are perhaps not accountable enough for literacy levels in secondary schools. Amongst Inquiry respondents, there was a strong feeling that a consistent whole-school approach was missing and many subject teachers were reluctant to admit that literacy is within their remit. Despite training and INSET, literacy is still seen as the responsibility of the English department rather than a whole-school issue, particularly in terms of assessment. Non-English subject teachers do not assess literacy, creating the danger that students view it as a skill which only matters in English lessons.’

The new inspection schedule should have the effect of increasing the profile of literacy across schools and encouraging headteachers and other senior leaders and managers to take a more active role in training and evaluating practice, as envisaged above.

Early Day Motion 2420 was tabled in November 2011 in support of the APPG’s literacy inquiry:

That this House is concerned about the high number of children and adults who struggle to read; is alarmed by the large proportion of offenders and excluded pupils with literacy difficulties; recognises the significant social and economic cost of poor standards of literacy; welcomes the inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education (APPGE) into overcoming the barriers to literacy; notes that the APPGE recommendations include a greater Government emphasis on reading for pleasure, recognition that greater attention needs to be paid to pupils’ post-primary literacy needs, and support for parental involvement in developing literacy and communication skills; further notes that the APPGE encourages the protection of library provision, increased status for teachers’ continuing professional development, and teachers’ freedom to use a combination of teaching strategies and resources to create the lessons best suited to their pupils’ needs; and calls on the Department for Education to lead a cross-departmental literacy strategy.


Media coverage and commentary

March 2012:

Ofsted: Moving English forward

Express & Star: Learning to read and write: Who is it for and who should take responsibility?

Optimus Education: School libraries still have a vital role

February 2012:

EdExec: APPG for education calls for school library support

October 2011:

CILIP (Charted Institute of Library and Information Professionals): The value and impact of school libraries and school librarians – selected evidence

September 2011:

Booktrust: International Literacy Day

July 2011:

The Guardian: MPs say phonics will put children off reading for pleasure

BBC: Schools ‘pushed into phonics by financial incentives’

The Daily Telegraph: Warning over Government’s ‘dull’ reading lessons NUT comment on Phonics Report

The Times Educational Supplement: MPs say phonics could hurt reading

The Bookseller: Schools’ library snubs hit literacy rates

NUT: Phonics and Reading for Pleasure


The APPG for Education would like to thank all those who took part for giving their time and expertise so generously, and Baroness Perry of Southwark and Lord Knight of Weymouth for kindly chairing the roundtable discussions.

Summary of evidence – including an overview of the roundtable discussions


Individual submissions

BESA Teacher Survey

Audrey Major

GL Assessment

Keith Holland & Associates

Manifesto – The Future of Reading

National Association for Primary Education

National Literacy Trust


Prince’s Trust: submission, xl clubs (schools), xl clubs (centres)


School Library Association: submission, Effective School Libraries


Roundtable discussions

On 20th and 24th May 2011 we held roundtable sessions with key education stakeholders and industry representatives, with Baroness Perry of Southwark (former Chief Inspector of Schools) and Lord Knight of Weymouth (former Minister for Schools and Learners) kindly chairing the sessions.

Download the attendee lists: education stakeholders and industry representatives.


Background to the inquiry

This inquiry began in October 2011 when we were joined by Rona Tutt (President of the National Literacy Association), Tricia Adams (Director of the School Library Association) and Ruth Miskin (phonics and reading adviser).

They pointed out that the debate has often been side-tracked – looking at the potential linguistic vandalism of text messaging – rather than focusing on the real problems. For example, a poverty of trained librarians, a lack of engagement by parents and senior teachers, and poor policy coordination preventing special educational needs being identified. A common theme was the need to engage children’s imaginations and use a variety of means to show them the value of their reading skills.

Following this, the APPG was keen to engage with a wide range of organisations and individuals including local authorities, schools and teachers; employers and their representative bodies, parents and carers; literacy associations; educational publishers and suppliers; and other stakeholder organisations.