Labour goes back to basics on teaching

Head teachers' conference: Blunkett outlines plans to shun 'progressive ' education for a return to the traditional methods
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The Independent Online
Primary schools would go back to traditional teaching methods under a Labour government, the party's education spokes- man will tell head teachers today.

Spelling out a radical reform which will sound more like the Conservative policies of the past than those of Labour, David Blunkett will advocate setting by ability, whole class teaching and the old-fashioned "phonics" method of teaching reading. Group work and the idea that children can learn to read simply through contact with books would be frowned, he will say. The National Curriculum would be slimmed down so that children would concentrate on the "3Rs" and social skills.

Mr Blunkett will tell the National Association of Head Teachers' conference in Torquay that schools have gone too far in embracing progressive teaching methods - a view formerly held mainly by right- wingers.

As a result, too many children are leaving primary school unable to read, write and add up. In future schools may have to meet annual targets on pupils' progress.

Giving further details of the plan in an article in today's New Statesman and Society magazine he will say that teachers are not being taught to teach reading, writing and arithmetic properly, or to maintain discipline.

"Teaching needs to be not on one ideological way forward, but on the basis that imaginative phonics does actually deliver better than leaving children to flounder. Children need to be taught how to read in a formal, constructive manner," he says.

Mr Blunkett will announce the formation of a new task force on literacy, to be chaired by Professor Michael Barber, of London University's Institute of Education. The group will draw up guidelines on teaching methods which would be issued to schools in the early days of a Labour government.

The Labour Party's aim is for every 11-year-old child to have a reading age at least equal with his or her chronological age within 10 years. It will introduce testing for five year-olds and continuous assessment throughout the primary years in order to achieve targets to be set by the group.

The school year beginning in September 1998 would be designated the "National Year of Reading".

Mr Blunkett will praise a scheme already set up by the Labour London borough of Barking and Dagenham, which teaches maths using the whole class methods already common in Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands. The traditional methods used in the experiment have proved far more successful than more modern ones used in many schools, he will say.

Most primary schools use a mixture of whole class teaching and group work as well as teaching reading both through the traditional phonics approach and by introducing children to books.

David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, said Mr Blunkett's drive must be matched by extra funding.

"He is going to have to produce a carrot as well as a stick. If he doesn't, then his message is in grave danger of falling on stony ground," he said.