Cramming can destroy creativity, says watchdog

Tes Editorial

Intensive preparation of pupils for exams in independent schools often amounts to spoon-feeding, says the first digest of inspection reports on independent schools. Tasks tend to be over-directed and pupils do not have sufficient opportunity or incentive to think for themselves, it says.

"Spoon-feeding works. But it works at the risk of something British schools have always been good at: turning out young people able to be inventive, creative, independent minded, even awkward," says Tony Hubbard, author of the digest and director of the Independent Schools Inspectorate.

In an all-age school in North-west England in which standards are very high, inspectors had commented that pupils were "rarely seen to go beyond the requirements of syllabuses into the more risky waters of uncertainty and independent thought. This holds many back from the highest and broadest achievements." Overall, however, "Standards achieved in Independent Schools Council schools are high, though given the advantages of many of the pupils in the sector they should be," says Mr Hubbard.

They are described as very good or better in a quarter of schools and good in about two-thirds. The most common weakness in junior schools is planning, which, says the report, can have a profound influence on the ability of teachers to cater properly for the needs of pupils of different ability and circumstance and to maintain progression and continuity.

The most criticised aspect of the management of junior schools was the co-ordination of subjects. Some are allocated insufficient time or there are unexplained differences in time allocated from one year to the next.

Other points include:

* The personal development of pupils is judged good in almost nine-tenths of schools and very good or excellent in nearly two thirds.

* Specialist provision for pupils with special needs is generally good, but teachers are often unable to support special needs pupils effectively in mainstream classes.

* Libraries are usually well-stocked and organised and ICT facilities good, but often they are not used effectively within the mainstream curriculum.

The ISI Annual Review may be downloaded from the ISI website, www.isinspect.org.uk

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