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Fiasco of pound;21 million drive to boost 3Rs

Primary leadership programme has produced few benefits, say inspectors. Jon Slater reports

Ministers need to rethink a pound;21 million scheme to improve the 3Rs in primary schools, inspectors said today.

Most primaries failed to focus on raising standards, and some even lowered their targets, according to the Office for Standards in Education.

Ofsted's evaluation of the primary leadership programme, which covers a quarter of English primaries, found some schools had focused on creativity at the expense of English and maths.

It said the first year of the programme had produced few tangible benefits.

The scheme had been introduced too quickly in a piecemeal fashion, leaving key staff without adequate training and information about schools they were supposed to support, inspectors said.

Most local authorities did not do enough to ensure that schools had clear action plans and set tougher targets for key stage 2 English and maths tests.

The report said: "Very few schools... had raised their numerical targets for Year 6 pupils as a result of the programme; a minority had lowered them because, as a result of the support they had received, they had gained a more secure understanding of pupils' progress and attainment and a better foundation from which to plan for improvement."

The scheme, developed jointly with the National College for School Leadership (NCSL), is a key part of the Government's primary strategy, which ministers hope will help kick-start improvement in test scores for 11-year-olds.

The report covers 2003-4, the first year of the programme, intended to improve leadership of English and maths.

Each school's leadership team receives out-of-school training, opportunities to visit other schools and support from an experienced head, known as a "primary strategy consultant leader".

Inspectors visited 14 local authorities and said that in some areas school leaders had not received key aspects of training.

The Government also failed to give councils clear guidance about what information the consultant leaders should be given about schools, according to the report.

This led to some primary consultants being inadequately prepared to challenge schools to raise standards.

Inspectors also noted a tension between the need to raise standards and the programme's "client-centred approach", which encouraged schools to identify problems and develop ways to solve them.

The latter, promoted by the NCSL, led to some schools "distracting themselves by focusing on what they perceived to be more interesting topics, such as developing creativity and investigating learning styles at the expense of ensuring that pupils were making good progress in English and mathematics," the report said.

Ofsted acknowledged that some of its criticisms are already being addressed but called on the Government to target resources at the lowest-attaining schools.

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