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Debate: The Primary Review

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By John Coe is General Secretary of the National Association for Primary Education

Sir Jim Rose is reviewing the primary curriculum and will make an interim report in November. What do teachers hope he will conclude?

John Coe

Dear Sir Jim, are you imagining a primary teacher at your elbow as you write the review? I know the Secretary of State is there as well, and you must be sure he’s happy, but please, keep us in the forefront of your mind. You carry with you the hopes of all of us in primary schools.

The political imperative is very strong. Government faith in market forces has dictated policy for so long. We teachers have done our best for children despite tests, targets and tables which, being the hottest of political hot potatoes, you have been asked not to include in your review.

Quality in education depends on the quality of every teacher

Make up your mind

For some eight years, the Government has sent us conflicting messages. On the one hand, enlightened moves forward: the new Primary Strategy with its emphasis on the individual, Every Child Matters, the Children’s Plan, the ending of Key Stage 1 SATs and the pressured formality of the Literacy Hour. Yet on the other hand, an unremitting insistence on testing, which, for too many schools, is the loudest message drowning out all the rest. You have the difficult task of squaring the circle, and remember, it’s a cop out to say that schools can have it both ways. Only a minority can manage it, most of us need the help your review can provide. The Government must make its mind up.

Time to think for ourselves

You will be aware of the damage that has been done to our morale. Teachers’ meetings these days are filled with complaints and a negativity which is the worst possible background for good teaching. Sadly, we have become too used to doing what we are told. Indeed, many of us have been trained to do what we’re told. Officials from QCA have pleaded: ‘Chuck the Government’s directives in the bin. Use your imagination. Think for yourselves and about your children’s needs.’ Yet only the bravest have done this and their practice is spreading all too slowly. It has taken a full six years for the Excellence and Enjoyment assurances to take root in our schools. Too many teachers have found it difficult to believe that it is up to us to decide which subjects to study in depth and for how long. And still, in many schools, the links between subjects are only explored after SATs have finished in the spring.

Remember the teacher

Quality in education depends on the quality of every teacher. Ultimately, it is the man or woman by the side of a child who makes the difference. Remember us as you write – how we feel is as important to us as it is to our children. Please look beyond the programmes of study and all the rest. Ask yourself as you sign off the review – have I shown teachers that they are trusted? How far have I gone to restore their spirits?

We are realists and are fully aware of the political constraints which surround you – but please, Sir Jim, go as far as you dare. Our hopes are with you.

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