Education Quandary: 'Why should academies be put in charge of primary schools? What do secondary schools know about primary education?'

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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

What indeed? Although as you, dear cynical primary school teacher, point out, being affiliated to an academy is bound to improve intakes at the chosen primary schools, so standards will rise at a stroke. What happens to all the children displaced by the sudden surge in these schools' popularity is another question altogether.

In fact this is the perennial problem with improving education by inventing new school structures. These can work well enough in themselves, but almost inevitably impact badly on the schools all around them that have less money, less attention, older buildings and more problem children.

In my book, you improve education most widely and effectively by investing in teachers and school leaders, and encouraging parents to send their children to school ready to learn. Anything else, like setting up academies and specialist secondary schools, is an expensive detour away from the main agenda – and I must be very stupid because I still can't understand what exactly private sponsors are supposed to add to the educational mix, especially now that they no longer have to cough up the millions originally asked for.

There may be something to be said for families of local primary and secondary schools getting together to set out a common culture of good behaviour and high standards. But primary schooling is quite different from secondary education, and secondary school experts should never tell primary schools how to operate.

Readers' advice

Back in the late 1990s my job was to facilitate primary and secondary teacher liaison. As part of this, teachers spent time in each other's classrooms and it was always the secondary school teachers who were surprised by the pace and inventiveness of the primary school classrooms, while primary teachers were dismayed by the dullness of secondary school lessons and said they could understand why some pupils went backwards. I remember, especially, secondary maths teachers being astounded by the quick fire mental maths they saw in the primary schools and saying it made them want to change their practice. Maybe it is primary schools that should be running the academies.

Frances Welling, Manchester

You ask what academies know about running primary schools, but surely the question should be what do primary schools know? Shocking numbers of children go through primary school without being taught even the basics. Academies have shown that they can produce the goods. Let them take on as many schools as they can.

Khudabadi Amil, Middlesex

If this move gives the primary schools concerned a fresh start, it will be a good thing. Schools in poorer areas can get so sunk in problems and failure that it is impossible for a head to do anything without a new injection of energy and experience.

I believe that we have to try every possible solution when it comes to helping pupils succeed.

Mary Dance, Wiltshire

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary, Help! My child has come home with nits. I've used a medical shampoo and got rid of them, but been told by his teacher that the autumn term is always a bad time, and he is likely to get reinfected. What is the best treatment? I don't want to keep using chemicals on him.

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