Creativity back in favour

8th June 2007 at 01:00
Today's primaries plump for topic teaching.

FOUR OUT of five primary schools are abandoning traditional subject teaching and introducing theme-based lessons.

A poll of 115 schools by The TES reveals a significant shift away from secondary-style subject lessons, such as English and geography, towards cross-curricular classes on topics such as chocolate or space-travel.

The email survey found that 25 per cent of schools had switched to teaching most lessons by themes in the past three years. Eleven per cent had started before that, and 43 per cent planned to do so shortly.

The themes can last between a couple of weeks and half a term. But unlike 1970s-style topic teaching, which fell out of favour for being superficial, teachers are taking care they meet national curriculum requirements.

Ronan Dunne, deputy head of St Gregory's RC primary in Liverpool, said:

"Themes help children learn because they tie skills together. You can make teaching relevant and turn bits of the curriculum that can be boring by themselves into something really interesting."

But not everyone agrees with the approach: 20 per cent of schools surveyed had no plans to forgo subject teaching.

David Hart, former general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, agreed with them. "We ought to concentrate on ensuring that primary teachers have in-depth knowledge of traditional subjects," he said.

"Theme-based education will disadvantage pupils in the transition to secondary. And it will make the secondary teacher's task much more difficult."

Topic-based teaching survived the introduction of the national curriculum in 1988, but was attacked in a 1992 report on the primary curriculum, which concluded that topic work led to "fragmentary and superficial teaching".

Chris Woodhead, one of the "three wise men" behind the report, said: "It's harder for teachers to structure a coherent provision in the subjects that are worth studying if they're trying to construct links between these subjects as well."

But the grassroots movement towards theme-based teaching has gathered pace in the past four years since the Government gave it the official nod in its document Excellence and Enjoyment: A Strategy for Primary Schools.

Mick Waters, director of curriculum for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, said the shift is a sign that schools want to organise their curriculum in a way that appeals to pupils.

"Schools are finally getting the confidence to make the curriculum work for them, rather than being slaves to something they imagine is the driver," he said.

Ofsted has backed schools that successfully introduced theme-based lessons, such as Balsall Common primary in Solihull, whose curriculum was described as "innovative and inspiring".

Full reports, page 14

Leading article, page 26

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