Heads say teaching in primary schools has deteriorated

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The Independent Online

Widespread concern over a perceived decline in the quality of teaching in primary schools is revealed for the first time in a survey published by The Independent today.

An investigation covering more than 250 schools shows that one in three primary headteachers are worried the quality of teaching has deteriorated as a result of staffing shortages. The survey was carried out jointly by The Independent and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).

One in seven schools still had vacancies unfilled at the start of term. More than half of the heads said they were facing grave difficulties recruiting supply staff when teachers fell ill or were seconded to training initiatives. Four schools were worried they may have to send pupils home at some stage due to a shortage of staff.

The survey is the first to concentrate on primary schools and the first to be carried out after the start of the new term. It shows the crisis in recruitment is being felt as much as in secondary schools. Overall figures from local education authorities, also compiled by The Independent, suggest there are 4,600 vacancies nationwide. The survey comes two weeks after national curriculum test results for 11-year-olds showed that improvements in English and maths standards over the past three years had halted.

It also revealed that special schools were faring even worse, with half of those polled worried that teaching quality was suffering and with one in three unable to fill vacancies.

David Hart, the general secretary of the NAHT, said: "It certainly destroys the myth that shortages are all about secondary schools ... It demonstrates there is a growing crisis in primary schools."One headteacher said he had received only one application for an English teaching job in a plum location that would have attracted up to 400 a few years ago.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said hard work by headteachers and education authorities meant "no school has gone on to a reduced timetable since the start of this school year". He added: "Demand for primary teacher training remains buoyant."