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Specialists close the gap

The use of specialist staff to allow primary colleagues time out of the classroom appears to be the favoured approach of most authorities in reducing class contact time.

A survey by the Teachers' Agreement Communications (TAC) team, whose results were slipped out quietly at the end of last week, paints a picture of authorities taking widely differing approaches - with some already concluding that benefits for teachers mean benefits for pupils.

But it is clear from the team's observations that many schools have struggled to manage and implement class contact reductions of 1.5 hours hour a week from August, and could be seriously stretched to fill the time required by a cut of another hour in two years' time.

The TAC report follows the agreement that all primary, secondary and special schools should be operating 22.5 hours a week of teachers' class contact by August 2006, with primary schools moving to an interim 23.5 hours at the start of the new session next month - a reduction from the existing 25 hours.

The survey found that authorities have responded to the need for extra teachers by a mixture of deploying increased staffing in a school or in the local cluster of primary schools and of adding to the number of visiting specialists, particularly in the expressive arts.

This means that pupils receive additional attention in neglected specialist areas while their teachers can be given more time to prepare lessons and work on their own development.

Kay Hall, president of the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland, representing primary heads, said that it was a case of "suck it and see".

Some solutions might be tried and succeed, while others would have to be discarded.

"More and more I am coming to the view that specialisms are the long-term answer," Ms Hall told The TES Scotland. "It makes sense that whoever you put in takes responsibility for part of the curriculum, both to reduce the curriculum load on the class teacher - which is huge in primaries - and to enhance the children's education."

But she stressed that secondary schools are not the only repository of specialist knowledge. In her own school, West Kilbride primary in North Ayrshire, she will be making good use of one of her staff's musical talents. The teacher will also take Spanish.

Pilot exercises carried out in Clackmannanshire, Falkirk, Highland and Renfrewshire reveal that teachers made good use of their time away from class.

"The professional development opportunities for teachers involved in all of the pilot projects were clearly enhanced and enable staff to refine a recognised area of strength, mentor and coach colleagues, make use of flexibility across stages in the school and share good practice not only within their own school but across schools," the TAC report states.

It continues: "Class teachers involved in these pilot projects were very positive about the advantages of reduced class contact time, including benefits to pupils, the time and opportunity to be more reflective practitioners, feeling more valued as a professional and a reduction in the amount of work normally taken home at the end of the school day."

The report suggests that pupils have shown greater enthusiasm and motivation in the subjects to which they are more exposed, and that this is having positive knock-on effects on their confidence and self-esteem.

"It is also clear that pupils' skills development has improved and there are some early signs that there will be a positive effect on attainment," the TAC team states.

Further piloting should now take place to prepare for August 2006.

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