Feed primary minds with a varied diet

24th March 2000 at 00:00
YESTERDAY, I was promoted from head of department to headteacher. At any rate, that's what it feels like, and it is a daunting, if metaphorical, responsibility. The TES Primary magazine, which I have edited since it was first published as a monthly section of The TES two years ago, has become a publication in its own right. The first issue hit the news-stands on Thursday.

It may seem an odd time to launch a magazine for primary teachers, just as the Government has decided to move the spotlight up the age range, but actually it is a good time. Having set off on the way to sharper, more focused teaching, primary schools have the right to relax a little, and free their imaginations.

I see my job, and the role of TES Primary, much as heads see theirs: to inspire and nurture teachers. How can we inspire children and provide them with the foundations for their school and working lives without looking after the teachers? And that includes not only supporting them in the nuts and bolts of their jobs (which we do in TES Primary), but to bring surprising new ideas and background information on anything from Einstein to designing an alien.

So it is sad that the morale of so many primary teachers seems currently at a low ebb - as shown by their response to Carol Clayson's despairing letter to David Blunkett (TES Friday today, March 17 and February 18). Most of their distress arises from the unreasonable expectations of the Government and society, and the failure to appreciate the problems and successes of schools.

Primary education has undergone a revolution over the past two years, and teachers have risen to the challenge. But no-one is telling them so - or at least not loudly enough. They have taken on board the demands of the literacy and maths strategies, transformed the way they teach, kept the children interested and engaged, and learned swathes of infrmation about grammar, spelling, mental maths and literary genres themselves.

The literacy strategy is becoming more flexible as teachers find ways to make it their own. They are learning to overcome its limitations, using better books, doing more with drama and writing, and branching out into science or history-based lessons. Teaching has become objective-based. As one teacher said: "What I used to do, was to think, 'oh here's a lovely book. What can I do with it?' Now what I do is think, 'this is what I have to do - where can I find a lovely book to help me do it?'"

While giving children the tools for making the most of the English language, teachers have done the same for themselves. Soon their imaginations will take them far beyond anything dreamed up by officials. I believe that when they feel the need to break the mould altogether, they will.

The Government should be content that its national strategies have placed Britain at the cutting edge of primary education. Why does it insist on pushing teachers and children too far, so that many schools feel compelled to "teach to the tests"? The national teaching frameworks present an expansive view of literacy and maths, but the demand to meet arbitrary targets threatens to undermine not only teachers' morale, but also their great achievements.

In Primary we will continue to fight against any narrowing of the curriculum by presenting alternative ways of thinking and teaching, and topics to inspire and fascinate both teachers and children. Giving out the TES Primary Schoolbook Award for Science last week, physicist Professor Russell Stannard said that the scarcity of good science books for primary children was a scandal, because:

"Children in this age group have inquisitive, voracious minds". We can feed those minds by giving a rich, varied and well-balanced meal to their teachers.

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