Education Quandary: Now the national literacy and numeracy strategies have been abolished, won't we just return to the old free-for-all that harmed so many children?

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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

Those of us with long memories can remember just how bad things were before these centralised teaching directives came in. A lot of children, mine included, had no decent grounding in the basics of literacy and numeracy, and many with learning difficulties were left to flounder and sink.

Yes, the new instructions were clunky and time-consuming. They tied teachers' hands and took away their professional autonomy. But they imposed some much-needed classroom order on the chaos and have been refined into something more manageable and flexible.

Yet times change and I believe it is now right to ditch them. The culture of teaching has changed beyond measure. Today's teachers are steeped in the need to teach children the basics in a systematic way and to offer additional help to those who are struggling. Schools know they are accountable for every pupil. Meanwhile, no more progress is made in improving standards, many children are still being failed by the system, and it is right that schools are now given more freedom to help their own pupils in their own way.

It all boils down to whether you believe educational progress goes round in a circle, or up in a spiral. In this case I believe it is the latter. New problems will emerge, they always do, but I don't believe it will be a return to business as before, and, with standards stalling, it is time to try a fresh approach.

Readers' advice

It is a bitter irony that the Government has decided to drop these Stalinist strategies and all the expensive consultancy that goes with them – and to return to more local support of schools. Education authorities have been progressively stripped of their powers under New Labour. Now the Government wants to rebuild them. The king is dead. Long live the king!

Harold Johnston, Birmingham

Does your reader realise that the strategies are not statutory and teachers are already free to interpret them as they think best and deliver literacy and numeracy as creatively as they like? I sometimes feel that the media always reports on school stories in black and white while what actually goes on in the classroom is in shades of gray. All the U-turns and Government reversals so loved by the newspapers are never quite like that in the classroom. This change will make little difference to teachers.

Hilary Lockley, Berkshire

As secondary teachers, we see so many children coming up from primary schools without the basics that it is scandalous. But it is nothing to do with how those schools teach literacy and numeracy. It is bad teaching. The proof is that the standard of our intake varies from primary between primary schools, and does not correlate directly with social conditions. With no outside control we fear this variation could get worse and that children in poor schools will drop further behind.

Jo Wright and Diana Jones, Kent

Next Week's Quandary

I’m the head of a primary school where pupils come from good homes, but their health is a worry. They are definitely getting fatter and at last week’s sports day few were able to run far. What can we do? We already teach about diet and exercise but it obviously isn’t enough.

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