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Primary teaching hours on the rise

Subjects still squeezed despite more chalkface time. Warwick Mansell reports

Primary teachers are spending an hour longer teaching each week than they were a year ago as schools struggle to cope with growing curriculum demands, new figures have revealed.

Infant teachers are teaching an average 22 hours a week, compared to 21 in 2002-3, while junior teachers' burden has risen from 23 to 24 hours.

The increase may be the result of a government drive to boost teaching time, particularly in schools where it was below average. However, two-thirds of schools at key stage 2 and 56 per cent at KS1 still find it difficult to offer a full range of subjects, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's annual primary report said.

While most believe that they have to focus on English and maths to hit all-important test targets, many are also introducing subjects such as languages and personal, social and health education.

The QCA report - based on a survey sent to more than 2,000 schools, school visits, seminars and interviews with heads - also found that some primaries now spend as much as 70 per cent of all lesson time on English and maths.

That leaves them only 1 or 2 per cent of teaching time for subjects such as history and geography. The report said teaching depth and breadth in Years 2 and 6 in particular is suffering as even the most successful schools concentrate on drilling pupils for national tests, said the report.

It cites several other reasons why some schools prioritise English and maths, despite the other curriculum pressures.

However, the report for academic year 2003-4, said that the main reason given by teachers remains "pressure for children to do well in the tests".

History and geography were often taught in alternating half-termly blocks, which meant teaching could be fragmented.

"Content overload" is also a problem at KS3, according to the QCA's annual report. Schools were struggling to cope with new requirements to, for example, teach citizenship and work-related learning. Nearly one in four of 470 schools surveyed said they were reducing time for languages at KS3 following the Government's decision to make the subject optional from the age of 14.

The report also said that the curriculum in many schools had been affected by "continuing staffing turbulence", with KS3 often suffering from unqualified or weak teachers and frequent staff changes.

In subject reports, the QCA said teachers welcomed the wider range of reading for children at all key stages, though this meant pupils were being given only extracts, rather than whole books, to read.

A "culture of dependence" was also developing in the teaching of writing, as youngsters of all ages were increasingly given writing frames and other planning aids to help them.

In history, the secondary curriculum was increasingly dominated by the teaching of Hitler, as schools concentrated on subjects teachers felt confident with and which were popular with pupils. At KS3, many schools gave insufficient attention to multi-ethnic aspects of British history.


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