Estelle Maxwell finds out whether primaries really have 20 per cent more free time, and what they are choosing to do with it
The slimmed-down curriculum has gone some way towards helping primary schools offer a wider range of subjects to pupils - but heads say it has not been possible to create anything like the one day free from teaching the national curriculum which should have been made available through the Dearing Review.
Most schools questioned in a TES survey at the end of the last term told how they had been able to find some time to enable pupils to study extra subjects as a result of the revised curriculum unveiled by Sir Ron Dearing last autumn, but the task had proved impossible for a minority.
The sample surveyed included suburban, rural and inner-city schools in England and Wales. Most spoke of their difficulties in trying to create the time for extra study and felt the slimming down of the curriculum had simply made it possible for them to cover what was required by law.
Six out of 20 headteachers said they were unable to quantify how much time they had found, three planned to use the time in blocks for topic work, five said they could now offer approximately one hour a week and a further four said they hoped to be able to spend between two and three hours on new areas of work.
Just two headteachers, one in an East Sussex primary school and another in a Hounslow primary, said they had created something like the 20 per cent free time indicated in the Dearing review.
The emphasis upon language, literacy and numeracy, which was identified in a TES survey of primary schools in March this year, was still a key area for most headteachers, particularly those in areas where many pupils had English as a second language.
Just over half of those questioned at the end of the summer term told how they would be using whatever time was available for extra work on core skills. Almost a third planned to focus attention on the creative or performing arts, an area which they felt had been squeezed in previous years.
A quarter said they would be offering a foreign language to junior pupils - most schools believed this would be French. A handful said they would use their "free" time for religious education, information technology, PE or other areas. Very few had additional funding for their schemes, and one or two were dipping into reserves or their school budgets.
The headteacher of an east London school with a large number of children for whom English is a second language said they would be spending any time they could on core skills.
She said: "We have an after school club for French. I would love to have time to put it into the curriculum, but it does not make sense at this point and the additional costs of doing so would be more than we could afford."
A Preston headmaster said: "I would like to have focused upon the European dimension and language programmes, but we do not have the expertise, so this would mean extra funding which we do not have. As a result it is not going to happen."
Funding for two days a week extra teacher-time had been found at a Kent primary school which was introducing up to 40 minutes per week for French for five to 11-year-olds. Its head said: "We have not been able to create as much as 20 per cent free time for other subject work, but we felt it was worth aiming for. "Apart from our French lessons we plan to use the rest of the time created in a block at the end of the summer term for staff to look at other areas including raising standards in art, design, technology and maths. "