'Give the youngest your best teachers'

7th September 2007 at 01:00

Research shows quality matters most in the early phases of learning

SCHOOLS SHOULD put their best teachers in classes for the youngest pupils to get the best effect, research has shown.

Professor Peter Tymms, from Durham University, found that although the benefit of having a good teacher fades, it does not disappear entirely, meaning children stay at a higher level than average for their remaining years at primary school.

Ofsted's most recent annual report found that the quality of teaching is best in nursery, reception and Year 6. The watchdog said the weakest teaching is in Years 1, 3 and 4.

Schools often put their best teachers in Year 6 because that is when the key stage 2 tests are taken.

Professor Tymms said: "When I looked at the data, the difference between a really effective reception year teacher and an ineffective one is bigger than between a very good Year 6 teacher and a less able one. Teachers have more impact on younger children."

The findings, which are due to be presented at the British Educational Research Association conference today, are based on data collected from the university's Pips project, which schools use to assess children's progress in maths, reading and vocabulary.

The survey tracked 73,347 pupils from when they started school in 1999 to the end of Year 6 in 2005.

It found that a pupil who received a boost one year, performing much better than average, would lose some of the advantage the following year, but remain at a higher level for the rest of their primary school career.

A good teacher had the greatest effect on reading and maths and less effect on vocabulary. While the effect of a good teacher remains, poor teaching has a similar effect, with setbacks detectable for years.

Professor Tymms estimated that the odds of a child having a significant boost every year was two in a million. Most would have a mix of good, average and poor years. The research underlines the need for rapid progress in the first few years of school, he said.

David Fann, chair of the National Association of Headteachers' primary committee and head of Sherwood primary, Preston, said: "It does seem like common sense and I think putting strong teachers in Y6 and neglecting the early years is a false economy.

"But if you moved a good teacher, would you be destroying Y6 for the benefit of foundation? The children would get a good start but clearly Y6 children need support for Sats.

"It isn't always an easy decision. And there is no doubt that people have their own areas that they really enjoy working with. Some people prefer teaching older children andvice versa. As a head, you want every child to have a strong teacher."

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