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Criticism of primaries intensifies

A further attack on the quality of teaching in primary schools has come from a specialist in inner-city education.

Just days after Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector, criticised teachers for being too committed to progressive methods, Professor Peter Mortimore, the new director of the Institute of Education at London University, says primaries need to put more effort into teaching reading and writing.

In particular, he says, schools need to focus on maths. Professor Mortimore, unlike the chief inspector does not blame trendy teaching methods. The problem, he says, is that maths is being taught by teachers who not only lack formal qualifications in the subject, but who are, in certain cases, not sure about essential principles.

Professor Mortimore also maintains that there is little evidence to support Mr Woodhead's claim that standards are rising. He says: "My view is that we have simply not raised standards high enough. I appear to be more worried about standards than the chief inspector."

The junior school years, he says, are important to future academic success and he calls for greater emphasis on reading and maths, but not at the expense of the broader curriculum. He is critical of the Government's decision to stop funding reading recovery schemes.

He says: "It is not just like any other initiative: it is one of the most promising means of raising national standards. It is expensive, as is any individual coaching, but if a child can be cured of reading problems for the equivalent of the costs of administering a statement of special needs, this must represent good value for money."

Professor Mortimore accuses the Government of taking advice from its own policy units rather than using independent academic researchers. The result has been, he says, that governments have introduced policy based on insufficiently tested ideas. The national curriculum and its testing arrangements have cost, he says, more than half a billion pounds.

However, universities are partly to blame for not tackling the central issues facing schools. There is, he says, a lack of good research on both learning in the classroom and on effective teaching. One solution to the problem would be the creation of a forum in which academics, civil servants and practioners could discuss education.

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