A wait and see game of gains and losses

13th February 2004 at 00:00
To do or not to do. Will I prepare that draft health education policy to meet a target in Queensferry Primary's development plan or not?

We have been following a provisional set of health education topics since the most recent guidelines appeared but it is now time to reflect on these and work towards an agreed policy. The difficulty with this is the usual enemy, time.

The list of environmental studies topics is long enough but we added separate science titles to be completed too. We knew that the health education titles would be added at a later date but it all seemed like another set too many.

Pupils at Queensferry Primary have enjoyed a week of health education activities every second October, which helps. This is one way of designing and teaching high quality lessons and covering a lot of the prescribed curriculum at one time. Teachers can then be more confident about slotting in remaining activities throughout the year.

I'm hesitant about preparing a policy because I'm intrigued to know what the curriculum review group might recommend. It is widely accepted that the curriculum is overloaded and there is talk of curriculum flexibility. What might this mean for primary schools? We'll know within the year when the review group presents its findings, presumably for consultation.

If Scottish children's health is to improve, where better to start than at the primary school stage? My difficulty is that I just do not know what we could omit from the curriculum.

So much of a primary teacher's time is taken up with core skills in literacy and numeracy and I doubt anyone would suggest cutting back on these. Nor can we gain the benefits from information and communication technology across the curriculum if pupils are not taught the skills to use computers. Modern languages in the primary school have been considered important for as long as I have been teaching. I doubt anyone would suggest cutting physical education and, in my experience, pupils love their art studies. All of these things take time.

What we are left with is the entitlement versus flexibility argument. What is feasible in the 25 hours a week that primary pupils are in school?

Another way to look at this is to realise children spend the equivalent of almost six days a week out of school, asleep for some of the time but also learning from parents, television, friends and being in the world. Society can't keep placing additional demands on schools without dropping something - health education, citizenship, creativity or whatever.

We might consider looking at core subjects versus options, which is more of a secondary school approach. The core skills which pupils need might be listed as literacy, numeracy, IT skills, problem solving and interpersonal skills. Before we could discuss options it would be important to ask what parents expect of school beyond a safe and caring environment, and what staff can be expected to teach in 25 hours a week.

I am left with more questions than answers. Could core skills be developed in relevant and interesting contexts throughout primary school, for example, using science, technology or enterprise? What part should creativity and citizenship play, if any? Can we think in terms of outputs - participation and achievements - not inputs?

What can be omitted? Languages, art, music, health education should not be omitted from children's education but could they be extra-curricular activities? Could or should they be provided by someone else elsewhere?

We should not forget primary-secondary liaison. Progression to secondary is very important.

I think I'll work on the health education policy and wait to see what others suggest when the review group unveils its secrets.

Sheilah Jackson is headteacher of Queensferry Primary in EdinburghComments: scotlandplus@tes.co.uk

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