Ofsted English Review

Telling the Story – Our Response to the Recent Ofsted English Report

Here’s an important overview of the latest Ofsted English report and what your school must consider to ensure that your provision is of a high standard.

On the 5th of March, Ofsted released their most recent curriculum publication, ‘Telling the Story: The English Education Subject Report’.

This is the first Ofsted report on English since their review in 2022. At its heart, it still follows the same fundamental messages, but adds additional emphasis on some key points while incorporating new recommendations as well. These are also in line with recent blogs published by Ofsted and the DFE’s Reading Framework (2023).

With this in mind, our English Education Adviser at Services For Education, Emma Mudge, has created this blog to summarise the key messages for English subject and school leaders as a helpful guide to signpost you through Ofsted’s most recent priorities.

Key Findings and Recommendations from the Ofsted English Report


Fluency & Comprehension

“Once pupils are able to read accurately, schools are less clear about how to build fluency and comprehension.”

In this statement, and in the recognition of the progress in phonics teaching over the last 5 – 10 years, Ofsted has identified that many schools are unclear on how to develop and explicitly teach fluency and comprehension.

There is also a clear understanding that teaching comprehension strategies through written exam-style questions do not significantly help to improve the comprehension ability of pupils. We therefore need to consider alternative strategies which are shown to be effective, before training staff on these approaches.

Things to Consider:

  • What are the most recent approaches to teaching fluency and comprehension?
  • Are your staff trained to deliver this effectively?


“Too often, schools choose texts to study in English lessons based on their link to other curriculum areas, rather than on how they might advance pupils’ knowledge of English language and understanding of literature.”

This statement in the Ofsted English report has implications for the choice of text and the overview of the literary diet that the pupils are provided with.

English leaders need to ensure that they know the texts taught during English lessons well and can justify their choices. A link to a foundation subject unit is a bonus, but should not be the first reason for the text choice.

Things to Consider:

  • What level of familiarity does your English Leader have with the taught texts, and why have they been chosen?


Transcription & Dictation

“Teachers rarely use dictation as a tool to help pupils practise spelling and handwriting.”

Transcription fluency is a necessity to enable the reduction of cognitive overload as the pupil’s writing ability progresses.

Dictation is key to this as it enables pupils to apply new knowledge, without the complicating factor of independent composition. This is an underused tool, and without it, pupils struggle to embed the new transcription knowledge taught.

Things to Consider:

  • Do your teachers understand the importance of dictation in the development of acquiring new writing skills?
  • When and how is this incorporated into lessons?

Oral Composition

“…oral composition is rarely used to practise using grammatical conventions and different sentence structures.”

As above, this is a tool which enables the complex task of writing to be broken down. Through oral composition prior to shared, modelled or independent writing, pupils can concentrate on the sentence construction, the vocabulary choices and the impact upon the reader.

Things to Consider:

  • Are pupils of all ages, and teachers in all year groups, encouraged to use oral composition as a writing tool?


“In many schools, pupils are expected to carry out extended writing tasks before they have the required knowledge and skills.”

This point in the Ofsted English report recognises the complex process of writing and the impact of the lack of the use of strategies stated above.

If we expect extended writing too early, this reduces the opportunities for transcription practice, increases cognitive overload and potentially creates a negative attitude towards writing.

Things to Consider:

  • At what stage is extended writing expected within your school, and why?
  • Do the pupils have the transcription fluency to enable them to complete the task set?

Spoken Language

“Few schools design or follow a curriculum to develop pupils’ spoken language.”

Through every Ofsted English publication in recent years, it has been recognised that “spoken language underpins the development of reading and writing” (National Curriculum English Programme of Study, P.3). Yet this element of the English curriculum is often overlooked, possibly because of its complexity.

Pupils require oracy development and the explicit teaching of the various skills to be used in different situations. Through this, both reading and writing attainment also develops.

Things to Consider:

  • Is there a provision map of spoken language opportunities in your setting, and is this progressive?
  • Do teachers know and feel confident in the teaching of debates, presentations, drama and other spoken language activities?


“…while key vocabulary is identified and taught, this is not necessarily embedded through repeated practice in different contexts. Often, pupils do not remember to use the vocabulary in their written and spoken language.”

Here, Ofsted is identifying the importance of embedded learning in the language-rich culture of the school.

Things to Consider:

  • Is vocabulary teaching a superficial activity, or is it reinforced purposefully throughout the days, weeks and months?

General Considerations from the Ofsted English Report

Too Much Exam Prep

“In some primary and secondary schools, preparation for external assessments distorts the curriculum.”

This is a welcome statement from Ofsted, but schools often find the reality of exams requires specific preparation to enable pupils to successfully demonstrate their abilities in this forum.

However, if the balance of the teaching is weighted too much towards this, then there is less time afforded to the teaching of new knowledge or the embedding and application of this.

Things to Consider:

  • What does this balance look like in your school’s curriculum?
  • Is there enough time given to pupils to allow them to deepen their understanding effectively?

Lack of response to What is Needed

“Pupils’ books show that fundamental errors go unnoticed and persist over time.”

“…in some schools, pupils who struggle from the beginning fall further behind and are not helped to catch up quickly.”

Ofsted recognises that critical errors in both reading and writing are being overlooked, suggesting a lack of understanding from the teachers about what to prioritise. For example, a Year 3 teacher may teach speech marks and mark a pupil’s work against this, but ignore the lack of capital letters and full stops.

Things to Consider:

  • Do all teachers in your school know and understand the fundamental building blocks in reading and writing?
  • Are these always prioritised before being built upon?


 “In many schools, there is a lack of training and support to meet the national curriculum requirements.”

“…there are very few examples of teachers working…to improve their knowledge of the subject and its pedagogy.”

Throughout the report, Ofsted identifies that training for teachers and teaching assistants to deliver the English curriculum in a clear, concise and effective manner, is not always at the necessary standard. This point is particularly recognised in reading fluency, reading comprehension, phonics beyond KS1, spoken language and English literature and language.

Things to Consider:

  • Have teaching staff received the required training and support to deliver these recommendations well?

What Do You Need to Prioritise Following the Ofsted English Report?

This blog is an overview of some of the key recommendations and findings, you will find the entire Ofsted English report on the gov.uk website.

Ultimately, what you prioritise from this depends upon your school’s needs and requirements. At Services For Education, we can provide expert-led training and bespoke support for teachers, English leads and school leaders which ensures that your English provision is at a high standard. See below for relevant courses and consultancy support:

For further guidance or support, please get in touch.

About the Author

Emma has over 20 years of experience working in primary education. Throughout this time, she worked as a leader in a wide variety of areas, and as Assistant Head Teacher, Deputy Head Teacher, and Acting Head Teacher, she has been at the forefront of school leadership and improvement for a significant number of years.  

Emma now works as the Educational Adviser for English and is also a member of the Safeguarding team, sharing her experience and knowledge to continually promote and improve the quality of safeguarding, the standard of teaching and learning in English, and in school improvement overall. Supporting schools with the accuracy of their KS1 and KS2 writing assessments is an important part of her role as she can use her expertise as a member for the moderation team to inform, train and support teachers and school leaders. 

Emma is also part of the team which delivers the Health For Life programme (improving the healthy opportunities for primary aged children) and the NPQSL, where she proudly supports the development of our aspiring leaders in the city. 


Our expert advisers can provide in-school visits to deliver sessions on any specific safeguarding issues that are relevant to your setting. We also offer consultancy and a detailed safeguarding audit. We will work with you to understand your exact requirements.

Get in touch with us today if you’d like to discuss bespoke Safeguarding training for your school.

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