Balance needs ballast

30th January 1998 at 00:00
Not everyone is happy about the lighter primary curriculum, says Gerald Haigh

No one can deny that secondary teachers want their primary colleagues to send them pupils who can read and write. Even teachers whose own subjects are hit by the relaxation in the demands of the primary curriculum are likely to agree that literacy has to come first.

But for some of the subject associations it is not so simple. What they see is an attack on the principle of the broad and balanced curriculum across the primarysecondary divide. The Geographical Association's mood, for example, in the wake of David Blunkett's announcement can best be described as incandescent. In a press release a spokesman described their "sense of incredulity and outrage" and spoke of the government's "disgraceful behaviour".

Much of the anger, according to Roger Carter, chairman of the association's education standing committee, relates to the efforts the association has made to ensure that secondary specialists recognise the amount of geography being done in primary schools. "Through articles, conferences, and courses we've been putting across ways in which we can improve continuity from primary to secondary. We were beginning to move on it - secondary teachers are much better informed about primary geography than they were even a year ago. All that is now just kicked out of the window. It appears that children's entitlement to a full and rounded experience in schools has now been suspended."

Andy Breckon, of the Design and Technology Association also hit out. "The implications for secondary are quite simple and are to do with continuity and progression," he said. "Teachers have spent nights of their own time working on continuity." The National Association of Advisers in Technology was just about to launch a major publication on primary-secondary progression.

And for the Historical Association, Cambridge academic and history teacher Christine Counsell, previous chairman of the association's secondary education committee, makes clear the HA's belief that history is too important to be left to chance in the primary sector, and regrets the possibility of losing what has been gained. "Primary pupils are now beginning to arrive in secondary school with some knowledge and understanding of important areas. This is very significant for secondary teachers."

This level of concern from the the subjects affected by the change is possibly to be expected. Even within the core subjects, however, it is possible to detect caution at the idea of any retreat from breadth.

Ann Kitchen, chairman of the General Council of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics, says her organisation has been saying to the Government for some time that there is not enough time in key stage 1 for all children to master numeracy. But she hopes that not all teachers will expand maths time at the expense of other subjects. For her, the key point made by David Blunkett is that of freedom of action.

"Teachers will know that they are not breaking the law if they judge that their pupils need more maths time, but I suspect a lot of teachers will not need it and will continue in the same way."

For the National Association of Teachers of English, Anne Barnes makes the point that literacy can be taught through other subjects. "It's a bit simplistic to say that in order to improve attainment in reading and writing you have to narrow the curriculum down." And at the Association for Science Education, chief executive Dr David Moore, though clearly gratified by the Government's recognition of primary science, points out that association members are doing considerable work on the contribution that science teachers can make to the improvement of literacy.

The mixed reactions among secondary schools are summed up by Richard Holdsworth, chairman of education at the Secondary Heads Association. Though SHA has yet to consider its formal position on the issue, he feels headteachers will be torn between their belief in breadth, balance and continuity and understanding the pressure on primary teachers to hit targets. "I wonder whether heads have realised the implications of returning to the position when pupils came from different primary schools having covered different areas of work. In the end, much will depend on the guidance given to primary schools. "

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