Revolution in the three Rs

Advisers will explain new literacy and numeracy strategy to primary schools.

Primary schools will be given up to a fortnight's supply cover this term for staff to receive new guidance on teaching literacy and numeracy.

An army of 800 advisers will go into schools from next month to train teachers in the new national primary strategy.

The move follows last week's announcement by Alan Johnson, Education Secretary, of a string of reforms to the way primary pupils are taught the three Rs.

Changes include a greater focus on teaching younger pupils to read using synthetic phonics, in which sounds are blended to make words.

And pupils will be expected to know their times tables up to the 10s by the end of Year 4, when most pupils are aged nine, rather than the end of Year 5.

There are also clearer rules on pupils' use of calculators. In future teachers should control pupils' access to calculators and they should not be "a prop for calculations that can and should be carried out mentally or with pencil and paper".

Teachers will be advised against letting pupils use them to carry out calculations until they reach Year 4, when they will be expected to add and subtract two-digit whole numbers in their heads (mental arithmetic).

However, they will be able to use them with younger primary pupils in other situations, such as role plays in which children pretend to be shopkeepers or in lessons on multiplication or mental arithmetic. The new strategy will also make schools place more emphasis on the types of practical problem-solving pupils might encounter in everyday life.

The full framework for the strategy, which will contain far greater detail of what teachers will be expected to do, is to be posted to every primary school next month.

Mick Brookes, a former primary head and general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the new strategy seemed to be "a peculiar mix of prescription and freedom".

"In the 35 years I've taught there hasn't been a time when we didn't use phonics," he said. "It is a very good method, especially with pupils with an audio learning style. However, I hope this won't stop teachers using the 'look and say' method as well as that can be better for with pupils with a visual learning style."

Mr Brookes said that times tables had never been abandoned by schools, though it was "quite ambitious" to expect all pupils to know them by the end of Year 4.

Childwall Church of England primary in south Liverpool already meets the guidance for calculators and phonics. It begins teaching simpler times tables such as 2 and 10 to its pupils from Year 1 using songs, then helps older pupils remember the harder tables using computer games.

Wendy Mason, a Year 5 teacher at Childwall, said: "Some children do still find them difficult in Year 5 and need reinforcing on the trickier tables like seven and nine - but then if you ask some adults what seven times nine is they'll hesitate as well."

Primary Framework for literacy and mathematics: core position papers can be downloaded at:

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