Dream team goes part-time

6th May 2005 at 01:00
Subject specialists are ousting the traditional one primary teacher per class, reports William Stewart

Traditional assumptions about primary education are being challenged in a Cumbrian school where all teachers are subject specialists and seven-year-olds are taught philosophy.

With only 40 children, Armathwaite community school is small with a budget to match. Yet the school offers its pupils, aged four to eight, a broader curriculum than some larger primaries.

It has abandoned the normal one teacher per class pattern and operates like a secondary school. All pupils are taught by five different teachers, each concentrating on different curriculum areas.

How is this possible on such limited resources? Because, apart from head Jenny Dixon, all its teachers are part-time.

When Mrs Dixon, an art specialist, took over in 1998 the only other teacher at the school had a science background.

"We soon realised we couldn't teach each other's subject areas to the same standard and that was how it started," she said.

The head also valued the interaction of working in a large team she had experienced in bigger schools. So as funds increased more specialists were taken on for a few hours a week and a part-time only recruitment policy evolved.

"Lots of teachers look for part-time work because it fits in with family life so well," said Mrs Dixon. "What also tempts people is that they like to develop their subject strengths.

"It is such a relief when you are not struggling with all subject areas and you just teach what you enjoy. It is such a positive way of working."

Today the school has teachers specialising in music; history and geography; design technology, PE and science; philosophy and RE; and art. All five, who developed their specialisms as subject co-ordinators, teach the numeracy and literacy strategies.

Pupils also have an opportunity for cross-curricular work during two-and-a-half hours of "child initiated learning" a week. They develop projects using what they have learned in other lessons.

"Children are learning things in greater depth and to a much higher standard and a broad curriculum gives every child a chance to shine," said Mrs Dixon.

"Having so many teachers at such an early age is good for them because they are forming relationships with a lot of adults.

"And there is continuity as they work with us throughout their time at the school. So every September teachers already know how far children have progressed."

Greater timetable flexibility meant teachers benefited from the 10 per cent non-contact time offered by the school workforce agreement three years early.

Supply teachers are rarely needed because if one teacher is off sick then a colleague is usually able to work a few extra hours.

Mrs Dixon would no longer consider running a school in any other way. She said: "As long as the budget allows, all classes will continue to be taken by specialists because we know that it works."

* william.stewart@tes.co.uk

Primary Forum 24

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