Specialist teaching to be boosted for final year of primary

Sir Jim Rose tells MPs his key roles are to 'cut the clutter' from curriculum and instil a love of learning in children

Helen Ward

More subject specialist teaching in the final year of primary schools seems likely to be part of the forthcoming primary curriculum, according to discussions in Parliament this week.

Sir Jim Rose has been asked to "cut the clutter" while focusing on English and maths.

His interim recommendations are due in the next few weeks and the new curriculum is due to be rolled out in 2011.

Sir Jim told the House of Commons select committee on children, schools and families that his key goal would be to instil a love of learning in children - and increased specialist teaching could help with this.

When asked how creating a more balanced curriculum would square with teaching to the test that is common in Year 6, he answered that the tests were not the only issue.

The key, he said, was to create a system that would bring out the best in fast-developing 10 and 11-year-olds. Sir Jim hinted that one of the most important ways to do this would be to bring more specialists into primary schools.

He said: "The problem in Year 6 is more than that (teaching to the test). It's the degree of expertise you need to keep up with lively 11-year-olds who are on the march to good quality work in secondary.

"Eleven-year-olds are terribly underestimated in what they can achieve. If you have a class teacher system hanging on in there, you are asking a lot of the class teacher.

"Look at what they are capable of in music when they have a specialist teacher or someone in PE who really knows their subject well. That's confirmed time and time again by Ofsted, I'm amazed how often it keeps coming up."

But using subject specialists is a contentious issue in primary schools. It is not a new issue, either. It was something that Sir Jim recommended in 1992 as part of the three wise men report, written with Professor Robin Alexander and Chris Woodhead, which also criticised topic work.

David Hart, the former general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, also advocated in 2005 that primary teachers should have more subject specialist training.

However, Andrew Carter, head of South Farnham Community Junior School, said: "If you go to your doctor, they give you a general view of your health - he or she is a specialist in general practice.

"Similarly, primary teachers are generalists who know when they need to bring in someone to support them, but good schools employ teachers who have the pedagogic skills to do the job."

Another difficulty with balancing the curriculum was what was expected of primary schools, said Sir Jim. "If there's one thing I'm determined to do, and probably fail in the attempt, it is to make the curriculum much more manageable. Because it's a very big ask of primary teachers if you have to deal with the whole of that hand in a class teacher system."

Barry Sheerman, chairman of the committee, asked whether there was a way of creating an independent National Curriculum body that could be protected from Secretaries of State coming along and calling for additions. Sir Jim said that any decent National Curriculum ought to protect schools from overload, not generate it.

The testing and assessment system is not in his remit, but Sir Jim said testing was "the elephant in the room" when he visits schools.

"It would be terribly disingenuous to say there's no problem here because of course it's an issue."

But he backed the need for information on how well children were doing and making more use of teacher assessment.

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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