Humanities suffer in primaries

4th November 2005 at 00:00
Inspectors find other subjects are being put in the shade by literacy and numeracy drives. Helen Ward reports.

Half of England's primary children are being poorly taught in history, RE, geography and design and technology, inspectors have found.

Geography is again the worst-taught subject in primaries, according to Ofsted which found that pupils did well in the subject in only one third of schools inspected between September 2003 and April 2005.

Pupils did best in the core subjects of English, maths and science and in personal, social and health education. But because of the focus on literacy and numeracy, inspectors said, the quality of humanities teaching has lagged behind.

Lessons in geography were likely to be the worst in a school, said the report, and the gap between it and other subjects had widened. It said teachers struggle because they have too little training.

Regulations introduced in September 2002 mean that primary trainees no longer have to take a specialist subject or to study history or geography.

A survey by the Geographical Association in 2003 found that one three-year course offered only four hours on geography.

The Training and Development Agency for Schools (formerly the Teacher Training Agency) is reviewing the standards teachers need to meet. Draft standards are due to be published in January.

The continuing poor state of geography teaching prompted the Government to set up a working group, chaired by Lord Adonis, the schools minister, which is due to report later this term.

David Lambert, chief executive of the Geographical Association, said:

"Primary teachers have to be au fait with 10 or more subjects and, particularly on the primary postgraduate certificate in education, there is the problem of fitting a quart into a pint pot.

"There is scope for increasing and improving the quality of the geography in initial teacher training, but I think the real goal is to make sure that subsequent professional development is available to schools."

History has suffered similarly. Inspectors said pupils' enthusiasm for history and very good teaching had led to improvements since 1998, but there was now evidence that progress has slowed though standards are not yet good enough.

They said the average PGCE primary course contained just six hours or less on the subject.

In RE, inspectors said: "Too many schools are satisfied with uninspiring provision. The principal reason for this has been the focus on improving literacy and numeracy."

Design and technology comes low down in many headteachers' priorities, say inspectors.

At St James's Church of England primary, Stourbridge, where more than half of 11-year-olds reach the higher level 5 in English and maths, inspectors praised the "exceptionally well planned" curriculum when they visited this term.

Anne Penn, headteacher, said: "When you are 90, no one will care what Sat scores you got. They care about the type of person you are and the life you led.

"I want to give children as many broad experiences as possible. We're setting children on the path for the rest of their life."


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