Leading article: Primaries must do better

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The Independent Online

The latest report on primary school teaching standards by Ofsted contains much for ministers and local education authorities to think about.

The latest report on primary school teaching standards by Ofsted contains much for ministers and local education authorities to think about. Worryingly, the education standards watchdog concludes that one in three lessons in English and maths are still no better than satisfactory despite seven years of national literacy and numeracy strategies. The inspectors think that a lack of subject expertise - both in the core subjects and in other compulsory elements of the curriculum - is hampering teachers' delivery in the classroom. They conclude that more must be done to introduce effective professional development activities for teachers.

The Government will argue that it has dedicated extra resources to providing primary strategy managers who are responsible for going into schools and improving teachers' performance. However, the inspectors conclude that too many suffer from a significant workload and that they fail to get the support that they need from other local education authority professionals. It would seem, therefore, that there is a need to monitor the LEAs to see if they are ploughing enough cash into this vital aspect of their work. But the schools themselves do not escape criticism. Ofsted says that, in many of them, not enough work is done to monitor the effectiveness of professional development for their staff. The schools fail to see if the teachers are putting the lessons they learn into practice.

On the question of the availability of professional development, there is one bright light on the horizon. That is the launch of the new round-the-clock digital television channel Teachers TV, which provides regular 15-minute bite-sized programmes to pass on tips in every subject. The Government has put £18m into ensuring the service's effectiveness, and an opinion poll of teachers carried out by the channel before its launch showed that many thought it would be easier to access professional development through a TV channel than by attending education courses locally.

One thing is certain: unless there is an improvement in primary school teaching standards, the sluggish progress towards meeting the Government's original targets of 80 per cent of pupils aged 11 reaching the required standard in English tests and 75 per cent in maths by 2002 will remain precisely that - sluggish. There was a modest improvement in test results last year - to 78 per cent and 74 per cent, respectively - but not enough to give ministers anything to crow about in the forthcoming general election campaign.

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