Primary study nails over-prescription

Research shows pupils learn more with proper feedback. Julie Henry reports

PRIMARY teachers are working more hours and pupils are taught for longer but the arts are still being squeezed out and one-to-one time with children is rare.

A new study which compares the life of primary teachers over three decades has found testing, targets and league tables have overloaded teachers and left schools struggling to cram in the curriculum.

It is published a week after The TES revealed that ministers were having second thoughts about force-feeding the 3Rs and as strong evidence is emerging that pupils learn more with good feedback.

The study found that in some primaries, only 30 minutes a week were spent on music and in some art was dropped in Year 6. Since 1997, the year the literacy strategy was introduced, the allocation for science and technology had declined from five to three hours.

Subjects were squeezed out despite an increase in teaching time. In the early 1990s, around four hours a week were spent on assembly, registration and moving to lessons but this had been cut to two hours in 2001.

Schools began earlier, lunch times were shorter and afternoon breaks had been axed. Some five to seven-year-olds had a two-hour session after lunch without interruption.

The study by Professors Maurice Galton and John McBeath, commissioned by the National Union of Teachers, also found that classroom style had changed substantially. Pressure on time meant teachers were 50 per cent less likely to have chats with individual children. Very little one-to-one immediate feedback took place. Teachers did not have the time to go through a piece of work or hear children read. Marking was mostly done away from the children.

Teachers said this robbed them of "magic moments". Younger staff claimed their job failed to live up to expectations. Teachers were forced to eat into their own time, with the typical teacher working for five hours at weekends, compared to three hours in the 1970s.

Teachers resented the additional time because they felt it was of no benefit to pupils and was driven by a rigid curriculum, pressure to meet targets, excessive testing and preparation for inspection.

John Bangs, NUT head of education, said: "What is shocking about the report is the extent to which arts have been eliminated from primary schools. Tests and targets are wiping out pupil and teacher creativity, the very area that the Government claims to value."

It is difficult to give creativity the prominence it deserves because of the emphasis the Government places on assessment and test results, Education Secretary Estelle Morris admitted this week.

"I'm wedded to the need for testing and assessment," she said at a London conference held by the National Union of Teachers. "I can't square that circle. I have not yet found a way of getting a message to those who care about creativity that it is valued."

Analysis, 24

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