Incompatibility is the name of the game

9th February 1996 at 00:00
Will the new inspection friendly arrangements be more primary-friendly than before? Bill Laar reports.

We can't go on denying it. Like some royal couple, whose betrothal is the outcome of constitutional design, primary education and OFSTED inspection are pretty well incompatible. Fine apart, in their own way, they become a source of mutual recrimination and public scandal once they are shackled together.

So, primary education is increasingly pilloried for failing teachers and under-achieving children; OFSTED is dismissed as insensitive and negative. All this, despite heroic efforts to adjust to each other.

The truth is they are ill-matched for one great reason that we somehow contrive to ignore. It is this: our model of primary education is still largely organised and resourced within the elementary school concept of a single teacher responsible for the education of a whole class group. But that was for another time, when perceptions of cognitive and developmental diversity were less urgent and curricular expectations less demanding. Today, this organising concept consigns primary schools to an overwhelming, perhaps impossible, task in relation to the national curriculum. In this respect they are programmed to fail. Inspection, in its turn, no matter how liberal or enlightened it strives to be, can only record what is evident, or be evasive in judgment. One indication of the inevitable distortions and misrepresentations that result is the current mythology that primary teachers, engaged with up to 10 complex subjects, are less competent than secondary colleagues with responsibility for a couple.

Perhaps we should occupy ourselves less with the terrors of OFSTED and take a long, hard look at the truly urgent issues in primary education today: * An inappropriate organising and resourcing structure;

* Class sizes that increasingly constrain opportunity for sustained critical interaction between the pupil and a competent adult;

* The failure to recruit and retain sufficient capable staff in many urban schools;

* The need to secure universal literacy at an early stage.

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