'Let's go back to basics...'

Primary teachers' attitudes to education are more "traditional" now than in the 1980s, Reva Klein writes. A survey of teachers carried out in 1982 and repeated in 1996 shows that their approach has moved from progressive, post-Plowden open-mindedness to an achievement-led conservativism. Learning by discovery, integrated subject matter and pupil participation in curriculum planning are out; strict discipline, regular testing and rote-teaching of multiplication tables are in.

Whatever Happened to Progressive Education? - a study of 338 teachers in 1982 and 290 in 1996 in voluntary-aided Church of England primary schools in Suffolk - shows a marked change in educational philosophy.

The biggest change in attitude relates to discipline. Where only 68 per cent of teachers in 1982 thought strict discipline was important, 80 per cent took that view in 1996. The idea of rewarding pupils for good work also jumped, from 56 per cent in 1982 believing it was a useful strategy to 82 per cent in 1996. The 1996 survey also saw a rise in the numbers of staff who support regular maths and spelling tests, follow a set timetable for different lessons and expect children to ask permission before leaving the class.

Whatever Happened to Progressive Education?, by Leslie J. Francis and Zoe Grindle, available from Reverend Professor Leslie J Francis, Centre for Theology and Education, Trinity College, Carmarthen SA31 3EP.

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