Class teachers beat subject specialists

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
Eleven-year-olds are better off being taught by a single teacher than by a series of subject specialists, research suggests.

The question of whether one teacher can know enough to teach Year 6 everything was raised by pupils, in conversation with Martin Ashley, a researcher from the University of the West of England. So Dr Ashley observed lessons in 23 Rudolf Steiner schools, which combine specialist and generalist class teaching at key stages 2 and 3. He observed specialist French, music and drawing teachers, as well as classes conducted by all-round classroom teachers. At KS2, 72 per cent of lessons by class teachers were not interrupted by pupils. In contrast, 38 per cent of the lessons by subject specialists were unsatisfactory.

His report stated: "Teachers possessed the necessary subject knowledge, but failed due to a combination of inadequate knowledge of models of learning, pedagogy and knowledge of learners... The teachers simply did not understand the children."

For example, one French teacher had good subject knowledge, but "made a number of elementary errors with regard to class management, and clearly had a poor relationship with the pupils".

By contrast, at key stage 3, 40 per cent of class teachers' lessons were interrupted by teachers' uncertainty about subject content. But 83 per cent of lessons taught by subject specialists passed without misbehaviour.

Dr Ashley concluded that there is a significant change in pupils at the age of 11, after which subject knowledge becomes more important. Before 11, good knowledge of individual pupils is more significant.

He said: "For any individual teacher at key stage 2, the most important forms of knowledge are less subject knowledge than those knowledge bases that relate to pupils."

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