Ofsted blames poor maths test results on teacher shortages

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The Independent Online

Teacher shortages have jeopardised the Government's chances of achieving its literacy and numeracy targets in primary schools, the schools watchdog Ofsted said.

This year's primary school English results failed to improve and the maths scores fell back, partly because of teacher shortages as well as poor techniques and subject knowledge of some staff, said two reports by Ofsted inspectors. Headteachers have been forced to spend an increasing amount of time searching for staff, causing them to neglect their leadership of the literacy and numeracy strategies, said Mike Tomlinson, the chief inspector of schools.

Ministers' targets demand that 75 per cent of 11-year-olds reach the required standard in maths by 2002, and 80 per cent in English. This has left a "challenging gap" of four percentage points in maths and five in English for the Government to reach its targets for 11-year-olds by next year, the report concluded. Further improvement in maths will depend on whether teachers' knowledge of the subject can be improved, Mr Tomlinson warned.

The reports were based on 300 primaries. Mr Tomlinson said: "Schools have had difficulty in replacing staff who have left, and difficulty in getting good supply staff which means in some instances they have a significant number on short-term contracts. Subject knowledge does need in-service training and few supply teachers have undertaken training for the numeracy strategy. The combination of the two not only affects continuity of teaching and learning but the confidence of the teachers concerned."

The quality of teaching of some parts of the literacy and numeracy hours has either deteriorated or failed to improve, the reports also found. Fewer than half of all literacy lessons allowed pupils to work well on their own. More worryingly, the proportion of satisfactory independent work increased from one in six lessons last year to one in five this year.

Keith Lloyd, head of Ofsted's primary division, said many teachers still made the mistake of setting independent work unrelated to the subject covered by the whole class. He said: "That is a disaster. It does not work. There ought to be a strong thread running through the activities. There has to be a direct link with what is being taught."

The plenary session, where teacher and pupils spend 10 minutes reviewing the lesson, has also failed to improve. Many teachers use the plenary as a "show and tell" session "a waste of 10 precious minutes a day", Mr Lloyd added.

Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, said: "When results were improving, ministers took the credit. Now the results are not so good, they pass the buck to teachers and local education authorities. This Ofsted report demands improvement from government as well as our schools."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills denied teacher shortages had lowered the results. She said: "Some of the local education authorities, particularly in inner London, where teacher supply has been an issue, have improved their results this year."

* The Government will have powerful backing today from an independent inquiry for its plans to allow classroom assistants to take over lessons. PricewaterhouseCoopers, the management consultants who have been reviewing teachers' workload, will recommend in its final report that the assistants should be given a bigger role.