Teachers criticised for poor knowledge: Primary school pupils given wrong information, inspectors say

SOME primary teachers have so little knowledge of the subjects they teach that they give children wrong information. Others do little or no teaching but simply supervise their class, according to a report from school inspectors.

The report, which is expected to be published today, identifies teachers' lack of knowledge as one of the main reasons for low standards in some primary schools.

The inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education visited a representative sample of 49 schools to monitor teaching after big changes in primary schools were recommended two years ago. They found standards were satisfactory or better in just under three-quarters of the lessons seen. They also found the national curriculum had raised standards in science and history and helped teachers to plan their work and assess pupils' performance better. Most primary schools were still focusing on literary and numeracy despite claims from heads that time for these is being squeezed.

The report says the 10-subject national curriculum 'has brought to the surface problems acknowledged before but not often tackled'. In some of the poor lessons, teachers did not know what was in the national curriculum. 'In the worst examples incorrect information was given to pupils.'

In most lessons, especially for junior pupils, teachers aimed too much at average children, failing to challenge the able and leaving the slowest floundering.

The report by the 'Three Wise Men', which recommended changes two years ago, was commissioned by Kenneth Clarke, then Secretary of State for Education, and compiled by Professor Robin Alexander of Leeds University, Chris Woodhead, now chief executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, and Jim Rose, one of Her Majesty's Inspectors.

It suggested more specialist teaching in primary schools, questioned the value of teaching by topic rather than by subject and emphasised the importance of a mixture of methods, including teaching the whole class at once.

The inspectors report that changes are happening, but slowly. Though the vast majority of primary teachers are still class teachers, teaching all subjects, 87 per cent of schools in the survey were using specialists for some subjects and schools were beginning to recognise the need to improve teachers' subject knowledge.

The national curriculum has 'prompted the challenging of certain long-held assumptions, particularly the belief that the generalist class teacher can cope almost unaided with teaching a 10- subject curriculum to adequate depth'. Topic work was still prevalent in all the schools. Only one taught every subject separately. However, many schools were beginning to use topics which focused mainly on one subject. This, the inspectors say, had improved topic work.

Among poor teachers, failure to use a mixture of methods so that children are taught in groups, as individuals and as a class when appropriate, was common.

A good teacher asks questions to challenge pupils, instructs children directly and teaches the whole class, individuals and groups. A poor teacher does no actual teaching, does not set deadlines and uses the same worksheets for all children.