G-oo-d-b-ye 2-00-6

22nd December 2006 at 00:00
The debate over synthetic phonics dominated the headlines for primary teachers this year

if there is one lesson all primary teachers have learnt over the last year it is to recognise synthetic phonics. The reading method dominated the primary world in 2006.

In March, Jim Rose, former head of primary at Ofsted, published the results of his review into the teaching of reading. He recommended introducing synthetic phonics at the age of five and providing 20-minute phonics lessons every day. The Government accepted the report entirely.

Lord Adonis, education minister, said: "Being prescriptive about what is right is not a mistake."

By November, The TES had learnt of government plans to introduce a quality-assurance panel for phonics schemes, ensuring that textbooks met the standards set out in the Rose review.

Literacy was not the only change this year. The new primary framework, launched in October, recommended that pupils learn their three and four times tables at an earlier age. And it suggested that teachers plan fewer lessons so that they could cater to pupils' needs.

Changes were also anticipated in nurseries, with the introduction of the new early-years professional qualification.

The first trainees enrolled for the three-month course in September.

Meanwhile commentators were keen to offer their opinions on how the country's youngest pupils should be educated. In June, the Social Market Foundation proposed that primary pupils should be streamed by ability and tested every two months. The think-tank also suggested that primaries should teach life skills, rather than focusing on the acquisition of knowledge.

Academics at Nottingham university attacked circle-time sessions, claiming that they are becoming too much like therapy. They criticised the unconditional acceptance of the sessions, saying that it discouraged risk-taking. But the most significant critique of primary education is yet to come. In October, Robin Alexander, professor of education at Cambridge university, launched the most comprehensive independent review of primary education since the Plowden Report in 1967. Over the coming year, Professor Alexander and his team of 60 research consultants will gather written submissions, survey research publications, and interview national figures, teachers, parents and children.

The aim is to reconsider all elements of primary schooling, from starting age through to classroom structure and parents' role. But looking to the future is not unusual in primary education.

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