Focus on DERA (Digital Education Resource Archive): literacy and reading

The IOE Library has always collected documents published by government and other relevant bodies in the areas of education, training, children, and families. Today, the Official Publications Collection here at the Library is the largest of our special collections and is highly valued by our users.

In some ways official publications are no different to other areas of publishing and we have witnessed a rapid transition towards a “digital by default” approach You may already have read our recent blog about DERA – our online repository founded on the traditions of our printed Official Publications Collection, dedicated to preserving the digital output of government in relation to education and we highlighted content discussing the subject of School Meals. This month, we are highlighting resources in DERA focussed on Literacy and Reading.

The ability to read fluently and with comprehension is an important skill. Teaching methods may have changed over the years but the desired end result – fluent readers – has not. What sometimes has been forgotten about is the fact that reading for pleasure as well as for educational purposes is also important. A love of reading and books encourages children to read outside of material they ‘have to read’ for school. The plethora of Book Clubs that are organised by everyone from celebrities, to local libraries to groups of like-minded friends are an indication of the perennial popularity of ‘Reading for Pleasure’. Advice can be found on websites such as the BBC’s .

Educators are interested in the ability of children to read for purpose but also do recognise the importance of ‘reading for pleasure’ as evidenced by the fact that a journal, Literacy (The United Kingdom Literacy Association), devoted a recent issue (Vol..52, Issue 2,May 2018) to the subject of Reading for pleasure: reader engagement. It was therefore interesting whilst researching ‘Reading’ in DERA to discover the 2004 Ofsted Report Reading for purpose and pleasure. An evaluation of the teaching of reading in primary schools. The main purpose behind this report was to identify “good practice in reducing under achievement”.  Methods of developing positive attitudes to reading and identification of the key features of the successful teaching of reading were highlighted so that they could be passed on to other schools.

Previously, research by Ofsted into and The teaching of reading in 45 inner-London primary schools (1996) led to Ofsted concluding that the wide variation in the quality of teaching of reading was a major problem. It noted that there was a need for ‘urgent action’ to improve the knowledge and skills of the existing teaching force which would require ‘systematic in-service training of primary teachers in the teaching of reading with a clear emphasis on phonics’.

The government set up a Literacy Task Force which was charged with developing a strategy to “substantially” raise standards of literacy in primary schools over a five to ten year period. The Literacy Task Force’s report of 1997 (A reading revolution: how we can teach every child to read well) established the foundations for the implementation and development of the National Literacy Strategy (NLS). Ofsted has regularly inspected and reported on the NLS since 1998 especially with reference to the teaching of phonics and support for early literacy.

Reading for purpose and pleasure found that in effective schools there was strong leadership and management from headteachers who were knowledgeable about how to teach reading and ensured that there was whole-school commitment to teaching all pupils to read. Schools with high standards had strategies in place to identify and help pupils with problems. This early intervention meant that pupils did not fall behind their peers which could lead to damaging low self-esteem. They were also good at teaching phonic knowledge and skills to pupils to give them a good foundation on which to build their reading skills. Whilst most pupils were positive about reading, those who lacked competence and were not making progress often developed negative attitudes towards reading. A point raised that was of particular interest to me was the fact that there was not much effort being made to engage the interest of those competent readers who did not actually read for pleasure:

“Schools seldom built on pupils’ own reading interests and the range of reading material they read outside of school.” (p 4)

I was also very interested to learn that whilst many schools had well organised libraries and encouraged pupils to borrow from them, they gave little time to teaching them the skills necessary to use the library to research information for themselves. However recent developments indicate that the situation, at least in Scotland, regarding school libraries is changing for the better. Emma Seith writing in the TES in September 2018 (Use inspectors to improve school libraries) discusses a report on School Libraries in Scotland. In the foreword, Scotland’s Education secretary, John Swinney, states that

“School libraries have a vital part to play, throughout the learner journey from 3-18. They support literacy, numeracy, and health and wellbeing, improving attainment across the curriculum.”

Earlier this year, Justine Greening, the then Secretary of State for Education, had unveiled the Government’s new drive to improve child literacy in the UK, part of Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential. A plan for improving social mobility through education (2017). Meanwhile, Ofsted has continued to be strongly involved in the teaching of reading in the early years as evidenced by the speech given in June by the Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, to the 2018 Pre-school Learning Alliance where she describes reading as the “linchpin of a good education”

Yet it is clear that there is still work to be done on developing policies that not only develop the skills required to read, but also to encourage a genuine and deeply held love of reading in children. A recent article in the Guardian by Andrew McCallum encourages parents not to worry if their child is rereading a favourite book yet again, as that’s where the delicate balance between teachers feeling pressure to show demonstrable progress and children finding and returning to a text they love can be damaged.


The documents held in DERA clearly demonstrate the difficulties of designing policies that measure progress in reading which also manage to foster a culture of reading for pleasure at the same time. As Andrew McCallum suggests, literacy is not simply “a linear process to be tracked and measured’. What is clear is that teachers, parents and of course children themselves have important roles to play in ensuring that reading as seen as a pleasurable, enjoyable, and rewarding experience.

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