Better results not due to strategies;Letter

8th October 1999 at 01:00
HOW can Michael Barber possibly claim that the introduction of the literacy and numeracy strategies have led to the "improved" key stage 2 results?

The former was frantically introduced into schools during the 1998 autumn term. Scratching below the surface of what is actually going on, it is simple to find that the strategy has been adopted and adapted in a variety of ways by schools as the many obvious flaws of robotic and slavish implementation were quickly discovered.

The numeracy strategy was only introduced in a few schools last year, so can have had little effect on results.

It is quite clear also that the needs of children at both ends of the ability range cannot be met by the literacy strategy alone. Why, for example, have masses of extra materials to be covered with special needs children been produced?

Mr Barber is also mistaken in thinking that schools which did not adopt the strategy as writ did not improve their results, some did, very significantly.

So what are the reasons for the improvement. There are at least four.

The release from the burden of every detail of the foundation subjects and the requirement to spend an hour a day on maths and English probably helped. (You may remember that among teachers' objections to the national curriculum was the fact that we'd have liked some time left to teach children to read, write and count!)

The amount of reading in the comprehension test was significantly reduced. Although the questions were of similar difficulty to previous years, it was having to plough through a large amount of text to find answers that reduced the achievement of many children.

Last year's maths test scores were reduced due to the introduction of the mental arithmetic (or were the levels of expectation wrongly set in the new format last year?). It is very likely that mental arithmetic practice featured significantly in 1998-99 maths lessons. Also, more practice tapes were available from previous years including the pilots from 1997.

With regard to achievements in writing, the skills required in a timed test have always been unrealistically difficult, and also the system of marking reduces apparent achievement.

Is it possible that this year's improvement was due to a number of children choosing the factual options, one of which gave the children a model structure, while the other gave a large amount of information which only needed a little adapting to gain a level 4 mark?

And, by the way, it is recognised that the development of timed and extended writing skills is not enhanced by literacy strategy methods. Some authorities say literacy lessons must take over six hours a week to include creative writing.

As usual, primary teachers have worked beyond the call of duty to try to square the demands of externally imposed systems with their knowledge of methods that work and the needs of the children. I am a critic of many of the elements (not all) of the literacy strategy in particular - but I am not robbing primary teachers of their achievements - after all, I share in them.

L Boztas

Year 6 teacher

18 Alma Road

Reigate, Surrey

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