Forget the pit-stop in Xanadu

13th September 1996 at 01:00
Silverstone's small infant school lies tucked down a lane so narrow that it would challenge even racing driver Nigel Mansell.

Mr Mansell, whose autographed picture hangs in the school office, once borrowed some toys from the Victorian school when he brought his children to the local race track.

Not surprisingly, this Northamptonshire school for 68 pupils makes the most of its fast-track connections. Headteacher Sandra Norgate, conscious of heating bills, rotting window frames and deteriorating roofs, has become a dab hand at begging letters - her latest asks the racing track for Pounds 1,000.

But when she and her three teachers are not unblocking toilets, clearing drains and climbing 30ft ladders, they concentrate on the three Rs.

Mrs Norgate said in her response to the TES survey: "There is much in the revised curriculum to commend it; in particular, more attention paid to basic skills in maths and English. Teachers can at last teach! The stigma of traditionalism is being lifted at last. Pupils are being encouraged to reach higher targets."

The 53-year-old music specialist and Labour voter remembers being "taught" to teach by a "drippy lecturer" with a penchant for Coleridge's Kubla Khan at St Osyths teacher-training college in Clacton.

"For my first job, I had a reception class of 38," she said. "By 10am I didn't know what to do with the children. It was the fashion to be creative but within no real structure."

Mrs Norgate said she realised she was a product of "Sixties trendiness" only in retrospect.

Since her early teaching days she has noticed how older teachers have been criticised for being too traditional because they they believed in good handwriting, learning multiplication tables, working quietly and getting things done.

"I think we have done a disservice to these teachers," she said. "People are happy to talk about discipline. And you have to give children a framework to learn."

But Mrs Norgate does not believe Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector, is responsible for the change in climate, nor does she blame teachers for using progressive methods.

Trendy teaching emanated from the colleges and the education establishment of the day, she said. Chris Woodhead was not helping to raise standards, but the national curriculum, Sir Ron Dearing and teachers were.

And what did she think to the Government's assertion that class sizes did not make any difference? "Rubbish."

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