Our recent inspection report is quite good, but the gloss is taken off it by repeated comments that resources in many subjects are limited or unsatisfactory. Governors - and some parents - have already been critical of us because of this and, as a result, seem to have ignored the report's generally favourable tone. But as a small school we have a massive struggle to find the necessary resources.
Do inspectors really understand what it is like to provide for the national curriculum?
Your disappointment is understandable. The concerns caused by such criticisms will extend beyond individual subjects to matters of management, general efficiency and value for money.
There can be no question that it is much more expensive for schools to manage curriculum implementation now than it was before the Education Act. There are now 10 prescribed subjects that have to be properly resourced, where, in the past, schools could afford to be more selective in their subject emphasis. The detailed definition of the Orders forced a concomitant emphasis on resources, especially where junior children are engaged in levels of learning usually associated with the secondary stage.
The renewed emphasis on history and geography has created heavier demands, such as the need for atlases and the emergence of information technology and design and technology created has highly-expensive subjects at the heart of the primary curriculum.
Few areas remain unaffected.Concept keyboards and sophisticated construction kits are now common in the early years. In English, emphasis upon small group reading calls for sets of books, rather than individual ones.
Yet no one at a national level seems to have made a serious attempt to estimate what the implementation of an ambitious national curriculum was likely to cost - and no appreciable extra money has been provided.
Schools, complaining less about the resources element than any other part of the national curriculum, have attempted to implement it.
In reality, however, many have been obliged to give up the struggle as hopeless.
But the fact that the issue of resourcing has been relatively low profile, has only led to the kind of misunderstanding and confusion, and possibly unfair judgments, that the question complains of. I suggest schools need to be more rigorous and business-like in estimating likely costs of implementing individual subjects, even if only to identify shortfall.
Provided with such information, they must decide on a strict order of priority for resourcing subjects, a rolling programme extending perhaps over a number of years, incorporated within the school development plan, and capable of being justified on educational grounds.
This information could be presented to OFSTED as important pre-inspection evidence and could be discussed during the inspection. Inspectors need to be well informed about resource implications for particular subjects, realistic in their aspirations, and as confident of the validity of their judgments in this respect as in curricular matters.
Bill Laar is a registered inspector. Write to him at The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax 0171-782 3200. e-mail: letters@tes1. demon.co.uk