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Further information on literacy standards review provided by CfESC

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Friday 04 October 2019

The Committee for Education, Sport & Culture is providing more information about why it has directed a review of literacy in schools.

This follows an update statement made in the States last week by the President of the Committee, Deputy Matt Fallaize, during which he reminded the Assembly of reforms being made to the curriculum, assessment of students' performance and the inspection of schools and raised concerns about performance data on standards of literacy in recent years.

In his update to the Assembly, Deputy Fallaize said:

"There are early indications of a possible decline in standards of literacy across key stages 1 and 2. This is based on the data provided by schools about pupils' performance at the end of year 2 and the end of year 6. There has also been a substantial increase in referrals for additional support for literacy. Literacy is a key priority and the Committee has directed that a review into the possible decline in standards must be undertaken in the current school term. It will consider possible reasons and suggest solutions which can swiftly be put in place to reverse any declines."

"There is a lot of brilliant work going on in schools in the primary and secondary phases. We must always continue to celebrate these things. Most students have a positive experience of school and this is testament to the commitment of their teachers and school leaders. Equally, we have to be mindful of where improvements are necessary and have open and robust conversations about how best to secure those improvements. We are on a journey with a common overall objective: to maximise opportunity and excellence for every student regardless of their interests, social background or prior academic attainment."

Teachers' assessments of key stage 1 students (school years 1 and 2) for this year show an improvement in the proportion achieving the minimum expected standard of reading but a decline for the second successive year in the proportion achieving the higher standard. Standards of writing at key stage 1 show a decline in each of the past three years. Teachers' assessments of key stage 2 students (school years 3 to 6) for this year show declines in reading and writing. All data is shown in the graphs in this document.

Over the past four years there has been an increase of around 40% in the number of students identified jointly by the Education Office and literacy specialists as requiring additional literacy support.

In 2018 the Committee introduced a requirement for students moving from year 6 into a States' secondary school to sit assessments which could be benchmarked against students' performance nationally. The scores indicate that an unacceptably high proportion of students entering secondary education have levels of literacy which do not allow them to access the full curriculum in key stages 3 and 4 (school years 7 to 11). These assessments are currently being sat by new year 7 students: provisional data indicates a slight improvement amongst students with the very lowest scores in 2019 but with much room for improvement.

Since being elected last year, the Committee has made or given notice of a series of reforms to the curriculum, assessments of students' performance and the inspection of schools and various initiatives related to educational standards. These include increasing investment in literacy support in 2019 with further increases in investment to come in 2020 in both primary and secondary phases; improving how attainment and progress are assessed between key stages 2 and 3 and at the end of key stage 4; and adding more consistent and rigorous content to the curriculum. These reforms are being led at officer level by the Committee's new Head of Curriculum and Standards, Clare Sealy.

Literacy skills develop over several years. For example, a snapshot of performance taken at the end of any particular school year cannot be attributed only to what has happened during the last academic year. And the decline seen in year 6 performance in 2019 cannot be explained by assuming this is a one-off cohort difference because there have also been declines in performance data collected at the end of year 2 since 2015. It is, therefore, important that the literacy review which the Committee has directed must consider all year groups and track possible earlier changes to curriculum or methods which could have had an impact on performance years later. For example, if a new strategy was introduced to improve reading in year 3, there would be a lag time of three years before gains attributable to this would be expected in year 6 data. The Committee for Education, Sport & Culture is keen to provide transparency about the data collated over the last academic year, but would stress that until further investigation has taken place it will not be possible for definitive conclusions to be drawn. The findings of the literacy review, and any significant findings across other subject areas including maths and science, will be shared publicly in due course.

There are a number of literacy interventions in place in primary schools. For example, the Reading Recovery Programme, initially funded by ECOF (Every Child Our Future) and now funded by the Education Office, has provided support for a large number of students working towards age-related expectations. This may have contributed to gains in literacy seen since 2011, but cannot provide a full explanation of the trend as an improvement and then a decline is also evident in the proportion of students achieving the higher levels, who would not have received any such interventions.

The literacy review will also work with school staff and other agencies to explore the various interventions that are in place across schools and review the evidence base supporting them to ensure that resources are directed towards those that are having the most significant impact.

As part of the upcoming literacy review, the Education Office is working with schools to unpick what might be the factors behind this. The fall in standards is not uniform across all schools nor indeed within individual schools; within one school standards might be up at the higher level but down at the expected level, or down in one area yet up in another. Indeed, there are areas where trends are encouraging, including in the Early Years Foundation Stage, where improvements in both reading and writing have been seen over each of the last four academic years. It is possible that there is no single root cause across all schools. Some fluctuations year on year are simply the result of having different children each year. However, the decline is of concern and the Education Office is working with schools to ensure that the teaching the children receive is as effective as possible.

The Office of the Committee for Education, Sport & Culture and staff in schools will also be analysing trends in maths and science and across the wider curriculum.

One possible factor that might be contributing to standards of literacy is the way that the Bailiwick Curriculum asks teachers to teach early reading. Instead of teaching children to rely on phonics - the sounds that the letters make - the Bailiwick Curriculum states that children should combine phonics with making guesses based on pictures and what might make sense. This 'multi-cueing' approach to early reading is now known to be much less effective than using phonics alone. Three major international reviews of evidence recommend that schools should move away from multi-cueing and adopt a phonics-based approach for early reading. All schools are using phonics in their teaching of reading, but the Bailiwick Curriculum currently tells them to use this as just one strategy among several. The Committee is working with the Head of Curriculum and Standards and other professionals and is considering amending the curriculum to ensure that teachers are supported by the most recent evidence and guidance about how best to teach early reading.

The Committee has been clear about the need to strengthen the content in the Bailiwick Curriculum, which has been largely skills based. Evidence from a number of jurisdictions which have introduced similar skills-based curriculum models shows a decline in standards and an increase in inequality. For example, PISA scores for Scotland have slumped since it adopted its skills-based curriculum in 2010, as have results in Finland since it underwent a similar change. Portugal's results, on the other hand, have risen significantly since they moved away from a skills-based curriculum and added greater content. In the 2018-19 academic year, the Committee put a number of measures in place to work towards strengthening content in the curriculum, including investing in a teacher-led group to develop key content in core subjects. This year's performance data reinforces the need for the curriculum to continue to evolve in the light of evidence and best practice locally and internationally.

All data is shown in the graphs at the bottom of this document. Some data on students' performance was previously included in an annual report, but these were discontinued by a previous Committee. The present Committee is committed to a transparent and consistent approach to publishing data and is considering improving how this is done for 2020 and beyond.

Deputy Fallaize said:

"It is important that we look beyond our shores to ensure that what we do in education is evidence-based and draws on the best practice worldwide."

"International evidence suggests that when content is more loosely defined - as is the case in the largely skills-based curriculum introduced in the Bailiwick in 2017 - there is a decline in overall standards and an increase in inequality of outcomes between students from more and less privileged backgrounds. The Bailiwick may already be starting to see the decline in standards experienced in other jurisdictions that have introduced similar curricula, such as Scotland, France and Ontario."

"The Committee fully supports the aims of the curriculum - to develop students who can think critically, solve problems and be creative and who will become responsible citizens and contribute effectively to our society. An express commitment of the curriculum is to be "dynamic, adaptable and constantly evolving". The curriculum needs to be considerably strengthened to avoid the declines in standards seen elsewhere: for example, work is under way to ensure greater focus on content and there needs to be greater attention paid to the sequencing of what is learned across the key stages."

"The development of the curriculum will aim to retain its existing benefits, including the focus on wider outcomes and the involvement of teachers, whilst learning lessons from, and avoiding the mistakes of, other jurisdictions."

"It would be unacceptable educationally, socially, economically and morally to deliver a curriculum which does not provide every student, regardless of their background, with the best possible chance of success in the future. Further development of the curriculum is a key priority alongside the transformation of secondary and further education."

Literacy data charts 2018-19 can be found in the downloads section of this page.

Downloads

Literacy Data Charts 2018-19

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