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How one school changed

CHRIS Davis, 52, has been head of Queniborough primary school, Leicester, for 17 years. He said: "When I came here we were very much topic-based with a system of fixed topics each year, one per half-term. What was important was the learning going on behind the topic. If we did Brazil, for instance, children would learn how to write letters by writing to the Brazilian embassy. We were always looking to develop basic skills.

"But there was a chance that things could be missed. So even in the heady days of topic-based education, we did 40 minutes a day of maths.

"The national curriculum gave us core and foundation subjects. Then came the "Three Wise Men" report which said whole-class teaching was important and veered towards subject specialisms.

"Initially a lot of the reaction was about content. Teachers rebelled not against being told how to teach, but about being told what to teach.

"When we had our first OFSTED inspection in 1995 we got quite a shock. The inspectors told us a few weeks before that they expected to find a subject-based timetable. We had never done that. But we stood the school on its head for that week and taught a subject-based timetable. It had never been done before and has never been done again.

"We came out of it with a middle-of-the-road report and went back to our own system of mostly topic-style teaching running alongside a timetable for the core subjects, including science. Although English was still largely part of the topic work, that changed with key stage 2 tests.

"The literacy strategy turned the timetable upside down. In practice it proved really successful, as did the numeracy stategy.

"We still don't have a secondary-style subject-based timetable, and there are still times we do general topic work, but it is a very small percentage of the timetable."

Helen Ward

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