Labour's 'philistine' priorities under fire;Conference;National Association of Head Teachers

11th June 1999 at 01:00
Schools under pressure over literacy and numeracy targets are neglecting culture and sport, the National Association of Head Teachers' conference was told. Frances Rafferty reports.

The emphasis on teaching the basics is in danger of producing a nation of unhealthy philistines, headteachers were warned last week.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, told its annual conference in Cardiff that art, music, drama and sport are under threat in an over-crowded timetable.

"It is time the Government, and its advisory quangos, understood that success in sports and arts leads to increased self-confidence, enhanced self-esteem and creativity which in turn lifts pupils' overall standards," he said.

He said the number of school drama productions was dropping because teachers, concentrating on literacy and numeracy strategies, no longer have the time.

A survey carried by the association found that more than 92 per cent of primaries have no gym, swimming pool or tennis court.

More than half of primaries have to share playing fields and 75 per cent said it was difficult to produce sports teams at weekends.

In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Hart said: "We now have a government which cares much but has yet to deliver. A great deal has been set in train. But the gap between promise and reality remains to be bridged."

He said it must tackle class sizes. "It is all very well cutting class sizes for infant children. What good does this do if class sizes for junior children remain a national disgrace?" Mr Hart later said that large class sizes for ages 7-11 were hampering the Government's literacy strategy. He said ministers must acknowledge that the yawning gap in results between the state and private sector - where spending per child is three times higher - was largely due to smaller classes .

He also took the Government to task for failing to take the initiative on post-16 education. "Surely a radical government, so keen to modernise, would wish to provide a post-16 curriculum which meets the needs of the country?

"Surely the Government would want to remedy the fact that, whereas 70 per cent of students from affluent homes go on to higher education, only 7 per cent from poor backgrounds do?'' He said that ministers, fearful of a middle-class backlash, had fudged their post-16 review.

Failure to give sixth forms any money to recruit new teachers gave the game away. The Government had no intention to make the broader curriculum a reality for all, he said.

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