Consultants' mixed messages hinder primary progress

Teachers: are you confused about what's expected of you? Do you wonder why the right hand of Government is dissociated from the left? Now there's evidence from Ofsted to support your paranoia. Last month's annual report on the impact of the primary strategy points to "barriers to improvement"

found in some local authorities. In one un-named-and-un-shamed LEA, "conflicting advice provided by strategy consultants and school improvement advisers led to confusion in schools." The strategy people demanded a tightly-structured approach based on the original 1998 national literacy guidance, while the local authority promoted "greater flexibility along with greater emphasis on literacy teaching across subjects".

Teachers in that authority probably didn't need Ofsted to tell them that they were confused, but primary strategy leaders plainly did. The strategy's official policy has long since moved away from strict adherence.

Why did no one tell these consultants?

Ofsted too can have unreasonable expectations. Pointing to the phenomenon known variously as the Neanderthal year group or the year group from hell, the inspectors tell schools to pull their socks up. They shouldn't let these awkward so-andsos interfere with steady improvement in results.

Of course, they don't put it that way. "Some schools are too quick to excuse lower attainment by pointing to differences between cohorts of pupils and do not take sufficient responsibility or action to identify and tackle underachievement early enough to offset any specific year group issues", they say. Wasn't it the very recently departed chief inspector David Bell who pointed out three years ago that almost every schools contains a group of children whose behaviour is so bad they are vitually impossible to teach? Whatever miracles teachers - or even programmes from the primary strategy - work with these children are unlikely to show up in the level 4 league tables.

And incidentally, the performance of primary strategy interventions is rather mixed as well. The intensifying support programme, which helps low-achieving primaries identify and focus on specific elements of literacy and numeracy that are holding them back, gets good marks. But the primary leadership programme is held back because some of its consultant heads, who help other leaders devise ways to improve schools, have not been properly equipped for the job.


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