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Pilot schools feel overloaded

It may improve lesson quality but teachers have attacked the extra work caused by the new literacy drive and say it demotivates the less able. Clare Dean reports.

THEY like the extra money, the pacier lessons it helps create but they are united in condemning the extra workload the key stage 3 literacy strategy has brought.

Every teacher surveyed in schools that have been testing out the initiative since last September said that their workload had increased.

The amount of extra work ranged from significant to massive. One teacher estimated that each new scheme of work took 40 hours to develop.

On top of that teaching groups have had to be re-arranged and catch-up classes organised.

And, while all this is going on, staff are also having to cope with changes to A-levels, the new GCSE syllabuses and post-16 curriculum.

The strategy, which is being rolled out nationally this autumn, has extra maths and English tests - quite separate from existing KS3 national curriculum tests. These are technically optional but have turned out to be anything but, according to the survey by the National Union of Teachers; a quarter of the 30-strong sample described the extra tests as a burden.

The findings sound a timely warning to the Government which this week met the teacher unions, who are campaigning for a 35-hour week.

John Bangs, head of education at the NUT, said: "Cutting back on the bureaucratic burden is not bout juggling paperwork, it's about cutting back on initiatives.

"If the Government wants the key stage 3 strategy, what will it cut in order to get that?" The other big complaint among the teachers surveyed was that the strategy left behind the less able students - the very pupils it aims to help. One literacy co-ordinator felt the strategy "assumes an ideal class, not 30 pupils of mixed ability", another said his "less able students became disheartened".

Some teachers complained they were being de-skilled but just one of the 30 surveyed felt that the scheme was "too prescriptive".

On the whole they liked the extra money put into pilot schools. A number felt the strategy had helped form clearer, pacier lessons. On teacher said that "you pack more things into English" and described lessons as "fast and fun".

Most felt that children entering secondary school had benefited from following the primary national literacy strategy and improvements across the curriculum were seen to be very positive.

Perceptions about training varied enormously with staff split between those who did and didn't feel that they had received enough training.

Most councils provided two to three days' training but the common complaint was that not all teachers had been able to attend.

"If problems with teacher supply cannot be rectified, the implementation of the scheme nationally could be undermined," the survey warned.

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