Improving reading in UK schools

This week came the good news that English schools have done well in boosting reading standards in recent years.
The Coalition government spread the teaching of reading by synthetic phonics throughout England’s schools. They introduced the Phonics Screening check at 6 to see how well pupils were doing. In 2012 just 58% of pupils aged 6 met the required standard. The most recent tests show 81% of 6 year olds meeting it, with a better figure again for 7 year olds. There are 154,000 more 6 year olds fluent at reading than in 2012.
As a result of this improvement England now ranks 8th out of 50 countries at reading, compared to being 19th out of 45 in 2006. The improvement in reading standards has been fastest for the lower performing pupils, which is also good news.

There are now 1.9m more children in good or outstanding schools as assessed by Ofsted than in 2010. Raising reading standards is an important part of raising educational standards, as so much learning rests on reading and understanding the written word. This is a good base for later educational achievement, as the Uk seeks to ensure people achieve more at school so they can get access to better paid and more interesting jobs later.


  1. Duncan
    December 8, 2017

    Teaching children to read using phonics is a step forward, teaching children about gender, gay and transgender issues is an issue unrelated to formal education and represents liberal left political indoctrination.

    This is what happens when you have cretinous politicians from both sides who see minority rights issues as a political strategy for social control. In some cases they fear being seen to be not backing the study of such issues as a sign of bigotry

    Education as most apolitical private individuals understand it should be reserved for the development of a child’s intellect (absorbing and understanding information, developing cognitive skills and problem solving) and technical skills (reading, writing and mathematics). It is not designed to be used for political education and the politicisation of children

    When will the dog tell the tail to stop its wagging or have the Tories decided that the way forward is pandering and appeasing vociferous and screeching minority rights activists and their poisoned, malevolent simply to secure an easy life and a scandal free press?

    This country is heading in entirely the wrong direction

    1. Lifelogic
      December 9, 2017


  2. Anonymous
    December 8, 2017

    Phonics is common sense.

    We ignored the advice of the Blob from day one including getting our children into grammar.

    Seriously. The BEST decision we have ever made in life – ignoring the Blob. The lads are streets ahead of their peers now in adulthood. Not difficult as it was all about removing leftist shackles.

    Now times tables and mental arithmetic must be used to improve numeracy.

    1. NickC
      December 8, 2017

      Anon at 6:03, Yes, we ignored the advice from the teaching blob too. We taught our children both to read phonetically, and to chant their times tables (at the age children like chanting). One of ours was criticised in a school report for “phonetic attack”! Thank God for the recent insistence on synthetic phonics.

    2. Hope
      December 8, 2017

      Give us break, May dropped grammar schools promise after gloating she and her siblings did very well out of it and also had free university education. One rule for and her family and another for us. She treats the electorate with utter contempt and as we now witness she has utterly rendered the ballot box null and void after capitulating to the EU to become an EU colony and cash cow. Taxation without representation. What should we plebs do now that elections have no meaning. Do we resort to civil disobedience or worse? Please explain.

      1. Hope
        December 8, 2017

        JR, your school points are wrong. It demonstrates to me you and your govt are not in touch with reality of what goes on in schools. As for Ofsted we saw how useless it was over Trojan horse schools and commented on by nick Timothy former May advisor in the DT. Be factual to the actual position not dud stats by A discredited quango ofsted.

      2. jerry
        December 9, 2017

        @Hope; Oh for pity sake! TM dropped the promise on Grammar Schools because, if you have not noticed, the Conservatives do not have a majority [1], why would anyone of than dogmatic fools carry on trying to push at a door that will either not open or once ajar will simply swing back and hit you hard full in the face – one less defeat means one less call from Corbyn for a GE…

        [1] and whose fault was that, those who keep banging on about wanting policies that would have been far more at home in a Tory manifesto from 1910, if not before.

        1. Hope
          December 10, 2017

          Yes they do they did a deal with DUP. Tories have a problem within. Corbyn is looking attractive to this idiot. At least it is better to be slapped in the face by the enemy than stabbed in the back by a friend.

          May introduced the EAW giving away any right to appeal in the U.K. Before being extradited to any backwater Eastern European country. She chose to do this, not forced. Gave your rights away for nothing. May does the same now.

          1. jerry
            December 11, 2017

            @Hope; “May introduced the EAW giving away any right to appeal in the U.K. Before being extradited to any backwater Eastern European country. She chose to do this, not forced.”

            Err?!… The Conservatives were not in govt. in 2003/4.

            If you are thinking of when the 2010-15 Coalition govt. withdrew from a whole swath of EU legislation, then opted back into some but not all, I very much doubt May at the HO nor Cameron as PM had much choice, seeing as the EAW was very much a British LibDem project within the EU, so unless the Conservatives wanted to risk the collapse of the coalition by refusing…

    3. jerry
      December 8, 2017

      @Anonymous; Both reading and numeracy need to be made relevant to the individual child, it is not the type of school or the politics of the teachers that cause problems but the curriculum, the worst thing that has been inflicted on British schools in the last 50 years is not the change to a comprehensive system but the National Curriculum.

      In fact a return to teaching by rote, if that is what you were implying, would further damage the chances of the less able. Bright children will always flourish, what ever the system, even more so if the parents take an interest in their children’s education.

      1. NickC
        December 9, 2017

        Jerry, Why the fear of learning by rote? Some things have to be learnt by heart because they are definitions (word spellings, arithmetic operations, etc). Moreover the less bright benefit by rote learning until critical thinking and imagination are established later on in a child’s learning life (and based on the rote learned facts, too).

        1. jerry
          December 10, 2017

          @NickC; Because it is often meaningless and irrelevant, unless the child can see and understand why the subject is important – teaching by rote thus becomes a chore for them, like washing dishes, often switching off even though they are engaging in the task.

          Tables and fractions were meaningless to me, taught by rote, for much of the time when I was at school, only becoming relevance and thus meaningful in craft subjects such as TechDrawing and metalwork because of the real-world need to use arithmetic. I learnt more mathematics in those lessons, by applying the rules of arithmetic to real problems than in any number of maths lessons and their learning by rote or textbook based problems. Providing one is taught to count, the rules of multiplication etc, how numbers work and are structured there is little real need to know off-by-heart what 7×8 is, any more than learning by rote teaches the child what what 7×3286 equals even though the latter is just as much a real world calculation, if you can work out the latter in your head you can work out the former! Calculations that are used daily will be memorised regardless of rote.

          In the past teaching by rote was just easier for teachers, not necessarily the best way to teach, hence why rote lost favour. One size does not fit all.

  3. Anonymous
    December 8, 2017

    Now bitcoin has become a full blown frenzy we had better hope to God the masses don’t invest in it on credit or by blowing pension savings on it.

    This could cause another global credit bust leaving millions in negative equity.

  4. Lifelogic
    December 8, 2017


    There is much talk of the benefits of “synthetic phonics”, but moving away from the often totally irrational English spellings to more phonetic spelling would have far, far more benefit. It would save a huge amount of time too – almost as much as having a decent road network with sufficient capacity and no government road blocking would have.

    It is instructive to read all the studies on dyslexia in different languages, comparing say Italian with English. Ten different ways to pronounce “ough” for example. Do we really need write, rite, right or too, to & two, they do not have different pronunciations when spoken so what is the point? Do we need spellings like ghost & yacht – why have a hard and soft C and an s yet fail to be consistent with their use.

    English spellings & notation is very inefficient and irrational. It should be allowed to evolve and improve to become “fit for purpose” as politicians love to say. Not that anyone will ever do this due to inertia.

  5. sm
    December 8, 2017

    There was an interesting comment on this by an experienced teacher elsewhere, to the effect that while both politicians of all Parties and the teaching unions were in favour of the (re)introduction of phonics, it was the DfE and the Teacher Training Colleges that fought so hard against it.

    Now that the powers-that-be have got the reading bit sorted, let’s hope that writing and spelling gets some attention; judging by my experience of reading reports within local government and the health services, and confirmation by my MP of the poor quality of civil service documents he receives, it’s long overdue!

  6. Mark B
    December 8, 2017

    Good morning

    Yes, yes all very well and good. But what of tractor production?


    I suppose if you lower the bar you can raise the standard. It is a bit like university degrees and more people going there. It just numbers and one thing that Socialists love, is numbers. Helps to put a positive spin on things and hide the real truth.

    Tut, tut!

    1. jerry
      December 8, 2017

      @MarkB; We have not had a “Socialist” government in the UK for almost 40 years now, any lowering of the bar appears to have happened since, during the Deep-Blue teams tenure or at least the Light-Blue (Blairist) teams tenure.

      Why is it that these days when 16-17 yo children leave school and move on to FE colleges, all to often the colleges need to provide remedial English and maths, when back in the 1970s they did not, nor was course content dumbed down…

      [1] plus perhaps other so called personal functional skills such as Personal Learning and Thinking Skills

      1. APL
        December 9, 2017

        jerry: “Why is it that these days when 16-17 yo children leave school and move on to FE colleges, all to often the colleges need to provide remedial English and maths, ”

        Perhaps it’s because they would have been in infants and primary when the Blair was pushing it’s progressive policies on the poor mites.

        1. jerry
          December 10, 2017

          @APL, Hardly, Colleges first needed to start offering such remedial lessons back in c. 2000/1 if I recall, so unless there were some very bright 10 years old children starting at FE colleges… Nor were FE Colleges having to offer remedial lessons back in the late 1970s and early 1980s for those students that had been at LEA schools during the ‘Socialist’ 1960s and ’70s.

          Of course what Blair might be responsible for is pushing school leavers into College for a few years, rather than have them appear on his govts. JSA count, even though they were educationally unsuitable for such FE courses – but perhaps better that than have them sitting about town clutching their ‘UB40s’

  7. DaveM
    December 8, 2017

    Dear Mr Redwood, do you have any idea at all what the outcome of the “end state” cabinet discussions were? Only, the captain of the ship has told none of the passengers or crew where the ship is going and who’s actually going to be telling it where to go.


  8. Ron Messenger
    December 8, 2017

    They can read about how Mrs May has sold our independence. The Tory party is now finished. Will you speak up, JR?

  9. Duncan
    December 8, 2017


    Tory betrayal as predicted

    Just a huge thanks to all those Tory MP’s who elected the Europhile Theresa May as my party’s leader who then promptly sold the UK and its democracy down the river

    Pro-May Tory MP’s must feel very proud this morning for sacrificing our nation on the altar of political convenience

    Now there are two pathetic political parties at Westminster

    1. Lifelogic
      December 9, 2017

      More than two and all pathetic.

  10. alan jutson
    December 8, 2017

    40 years ago my Wife and I used Phonics to teach both of our children to read before they both went to School.

    Such a basic and simple system to use when combined with flash cards.

    Better than all the complicated trendy methods tried since.

    Time now to get to grips with mathematics which relate to real life, like the reading of bus and train time tables, and mental arithmetic, so you can calculate the value of a shopping basket and goods on the shelves etc.
    May also help people work out the real cost in money terms of interest rates.

  11. Ian Wragg
    December 8, 2017

    Better paid and more interesting jobs. That won’t be possible whilst we keep importing millions of foreigners to do the work cheaper.
    I see May has said that the descendants of EU nationals will continue to have super rights after Brexit not available to British kids.
    It will be interesting to see the fine print of the latest capitulation no doubt overseen by the ECJ.

    1. Hope
      December 8, 2017

      ECJ for 8 years at least! Staying in single market forever, Irish PM highlighting freedom of movement, Benefits to EU citizens not living in the country and to their family allowed to come here. So presumably fly in get health care sign up for winter fuel allowance and fly out! JR tell me this is not true.

  12. Edward2
    December 8, 2017

    This policy was battled through against huge opposition from teaching unions and the educational establishment.
    Yet we see the obvious success.
    An apology from them would be nice.

  13. Bert Young
    December 8, 2017

    In my days ” look and say” had overtaken phonics in the early teaching of reading ; the result was a backward trend in reading ages and awful spelling . I ignored this in the school I ran ( 1953 – 1961 ) and stuck to phonics via the ” Janet and John ” series . The reading ages achieved were very high compared to most other schools . ” Look and say ” has now disappeared altogether I am glad to say .

    1. Peter
      December 8, 2017

      We had ‘Dick and Dora’ books which were similar though I never came across a young schoolgirl called Dora, whereas Janet was not an unusual name.

      Of course a children’s reading book these days would probably have to be ‘gender-neutral’ and politically correct too.

      We had class sizes of 48 children. The eleven plus was still in operation as well.

      Education is not simply about jumping through all the academic hoops and landing a well paid job. It is about producing well-rounded, decent individuals with a good moral compass and a strong set of values.

    2. stred
      December 8, 2017

      The headmistress of the J and I that my kids went to told parents not to help their children, even to draw pictures- as then it wouldn’t be their own. She also refused to teach phonics. My son was adding in millions before he went to school. After a year of going backwards, he said he had ” been learning what numbers like six really meant”. I asked what it did mean and he said: ” well six means six”. After two years my daughter was not reading except basic words. I made phonic cards with pictures like the Janet and John cards and over the summer holiday she had learned to read. All she needed was a start, to analyse the words and remember exceptions.

      Today we read that the V.C. of the teacher training college in Bath has outstripped the ….. one at Bath university and managed to steer £800k into her handbag. It would save us a lot(if this was changed ed).

  14. Prigger
    December 8, 2017

    I have just heard the term”synthetic phonics ” . Looked it up.It sounds like the system of over 65 years ago which I had and was termed “teaching children how to read”

  15. Epikouros
    December 8, 2017

    It is important to note that this improvement is on the back of detaching many schools from state control and therefore political and bureaucratic influence and interference. Not entirely but enough to realise that if the detachment was completely the improvement would be even better.

    It is wondrous what can happen when the people control their own destiny rather than governments and vested interests. They create market based economies that allow trade and prosperity to grow. They create law that we call common law that is many times fairer and more just than legislative law. They set up charitable institution for education and health that work well until later captured and run by government(they were not universal but left to their own devices they would have become so). An so much more.

  16. Rollo
    December 8, 2017

    So ireland dictates terms!! Who will truly speak for us english

  17. English Pensioner
    December 8, 2017

    Hasn’t this improvement in reading been because the “experts” who wanted to use the “look and learn” method of reading been proved wrong and schools have mostly gone back to phonetics?

    I personally will only believe that there is an improvement in reading standards when they are better than in the ’50s when I left school. Far too many of our teenagers have difficulty expressing themselves verbally, let alone in writing other than in text language!

    What also seems to be missing is creating a desire to read, possibly due to a politically correct reading list. But when I’m visited by my 8 year old grandson who asks me in all seriousness “Grandad, why do I have to learn to read?”, I feel that something is missing.

    For his age he’s quite a good reader, but he still sees reading as just another lesson to be tolerated. After all, it’s easier to watch a story on TV than sit down and read it! I hope that I was able to answer his question and that he’ll get more interested in reading. A Children’s Encyclopaedia is now on the Christmas list so hopefully he will be able to look up the answers to some of the questions he often asks me!

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