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Millions are spent but no boost to attainment

Extensive curriculum reform in primaries over the past seven years, costing millions of pounds, has failed to push up pupils' attainment, according to most teachers and half the headteachers surveyed by researchers.

A continuing Scottish Office-funded study of the 5-14 programme, carried out by the Scottish Council for Research in Education, confirms earlier evidence that teachers are unconvinced about improvements to pupils' attainment.

Heather Malcolm and Ursula Schlapp, writing in 5-14 in the primary school: a continuing challenge, say teachers are reluctant to link advances with the reforms, although there are many pluses in terms of a better planned curriculum, offering improved continuity and progression. Teachers are divided over the contribution of the programme to children's learning.

The researchers point out: "Only half the headteachers and even fewer teachers felt that they had evidence that 5-14 was improving pupils' attainment. The perception was reported after the first four years of the evaluation and it is interesting to note that there has been little change in the two years following."

Many teachers in the 200 schools surveyed failed to comment on the effects on attainment. They believed they did not have enough evidence. Others said they could not make comparisons with past achievements.

Most heads agreed the programme has helped broaden the curriculum but this has been at the expense of time on mathematics and language. Three-quarters of heads and teachers also agreed there is better balanced teaching but a significant minority (25 per cent) said they were unhappy spending less time on the basics.

A clear majority of staff said continuity within the primary has improved, yet only around half the heads and a third of teachers felt there was better continuity with secondaries. "There is evidence of some bitterness from primary school teachers, working on 5-14 related issues within their liaison groups, who feel they are investing effort which is disregarded by secondary staff, " according to the researchers.

The programme was introduced in 1991 and began by focusing on English language and mathematics. Ministers want it to be fully implemented by summer 1999 but the study reports many schools will fail to introduce all aspects by that date.

The latest SCRE survey, carried out between March 1995 and March 1997, found most schools had developed at least one curriculum area beyond maths and English and that most felt the assessment guidelines had a strong influence on their practice. Teachers' confidence had increased.

Despite repeated assertions from the unions about workload, the researchers say there is little evidence that staff were finding it difficult to cope with the "cumulative demands" as the programme developed. Teachers' worries were eased as they became more familiar with the guidelines. Support from Government documentation and education authorities helped, along with school-based in-service and work in planned activity time.

By April 1996, over half the schools were proceeding with environmental studies guidelines, about half were moving on religious and moral education and under half in expressive arts. Teachers said they were satisfied with the progress.

Almost all schools had introduced planning sheets based on 5-14 and over 75 per cent of teachers had changed the curriculum content they taught. In maths, more time was spent on practical and context-based activities, problem-solving and investigations. Teachers placed more emphasis in English on talking and listening skills and on achieving a better balance of functional, personal and imaginative writing.

Half the teachers claimed they used more subject-based teaching and many schools were developing or buying new resources. Almost 75 per cent felt they had increased their use of published schemes.

Ms Malcolm and Ms Schlapp say: "There was no evidence of the trend towards whole-class teaching that some teachers had predicted at an early stage of the evaluation, and indeed over half of the teachers believed they gave more emphasis to differentiation than in the past." Attainment groups were more popular.

Most teachers said assessment guidelines were influencing practice, assessment was more focused and that they were satisfied with the revised procedures. Any dissatisfaction was down to a failure to recognise the usefulness of assessment and a perception that it was overly time-consuming and generated excessive paperwork.

Nearly all schools had carried out national tests and many teachers reported the tests only confirmed their judgements and that time could have been used more constructively. "There seemed to be a lack of recognition that the purpose of the tests was to provide this confirmation," according to the researchers.

Teachers agreed they were better at recording pupils' progress and used a wider variety of methods. The most common complaint was that the records were over-complex and took up too much time. Parents were generally happy with the information they received.

Curiously, almost half the parents did not know schools were working to the 5-14 programme but two-thirds said children's progress was reported in terms of levels they understood.

Almost all heads thought their school development plan was a useful mechanism for pacing change and almost half that the management team should decide when the school should move onto the next implementation area. Heads were finding it difficult to set aside time to monitor teachers' forward plans.

"Impediments to progress were cited as a lack of resources, including time, the EIS workload campaign, pressure to depart from the agreed school development plan, staff changes and uncertainty fuelled by local government reorganisation."

"5-14 in the primary school: a continuing challenge", by Heather Malcolm and Ursula Schlapp, is published by the Scottish Council for Research in Education, price Pounds 11.50.

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