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Overload has put maths at risk;National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers Scottish conference

David Henderson reports from the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers Scottish conference

Primary pupils are struggling with basic arithmetic because of curriculum overload, Steve Flowers, a Stranraer Academy maths teacher, told the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers conference at Seamill last week.

Mr Flowers, supporting a call for a sharply slimmed down 5-14 curriculum, warned: "Pupils are coming into secondary with the basics increasingly insecure. The standards of basic numeracy are declining in certain regards and that's backed by the Assessment of Achievement Programme. It is a very worrying situation and is making our job harder." Primary staff were being asked to take on more and more and spending less time on numeracy. This had repercussions throughout primary and secondary, he said.

Pat O'Donnell, former Scottish president and an East Kilbride primary teacher, described the environmental studies guidelines as "the worst document" he had ever seen in education. It placed impossible burdens on primary staff. "No single teacher can take it on board," he advised.

Mr O'Donnell called for cuts in planning, assessment and reporting and for the return of "discrete subjects" in primary.

Explaining the workload difficulties, Rhona Mackenzie, a fellow East Kilbride primary teacher, reminded delegates environmental studies covered social subjects, science, health, technology and information technology.

She said: "The recommended percentage of class contact time spent on this area is 25 per cent or six and a quarter hours per week. Environmental studies has 22 strands over its five subjects with an average of five outcomes per strand. This means that 110 outcomes have to be attained at each level. Each outcome must be 'visited' a minimum of twice over a three year period. This makes a minimum of 220 outcomes.

"This is, of course, only for one 5-14 level. It is quite normal in any primary class to be teaching two-three levels at one time. This means a teacher should aspire to plan and deliver approximately 300 different outcomes per year," Mrs Mackenzie continued.

"The reality of this would mean that a teacher would start a growth topic, plant some seeds and would have 'visited' the Romans, the Middle Ages and the Victorians before the seeds had even germinated," she stated.

Staff had to cope with similar pressures in the other five areas of the primary curriculum, Mrs Mackenzie explained. "Has anyone from the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department ever successfully implemented the full 5-14 curriculum working as a primary class teacher with no visiting specialist teachers? Someone somewhere must believe it's possible. Unfortunately, no one in the real world of teaching can see any way in which it can be achieved," she asserted.

Jane Fairweather, an East Kilbride colleague, added: "In an ideal world, 5-14 would work. In our world, it will never work until it is simplified and properly resourced." She appealed for textbooks designed to complement 5-14 and effective use of specialist teachers.

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