Millions are spent but no boost to attainment

12th December 1997 at 00:00
Extensive curriculum reform in primaries over the past seven years, costing + millions of pounds, has failed to push up pupils' attainment, according to most+ teachers and half the headteachers surveyed by researchers. A continuing + Scottish Office-funded study of the 5-14 programme, carried out by the Scottish+ Council for Research in Education, confirms earlier evidence that teachers are+ unconvinced about improvements to pupils' attainment. Heather Malcolm and + Ursula Schlapp, writing in 5-14 in the primary school: a continuing challenge, + say teachers are reluctant to link advances with the reforms, although there + are many pluses in terms of a better planned curriculum, offering improved + continuity and progression. Teachers are divided over the contribution of the + programme to children's learning.The researchers point out: "Only half the + headteachers and even fewer teachers felt that they had evidence that 5-14 was + improving pupils' attainment. The perception was reported after the first four+ years of the evaluation and it is interesting to note that there has been + little change in the two years following."Many teachers in the 200 schools + surveyed failed to comment on the effects on attainment. They believed they did+ not have enough evidence. Others said they could not make comparisons with + past achievements.Most heads agreed the programme has helped broaden the + curriculum but this has been at the expense of time on mathematics and + language. Three-quarters of heads and teachers also agreed there is better + balanced teaching but a significant minority (25 per cent) said they were + unhappy spending less time on the basics.A clear majority of staff said + continuity within the primary has improved,yet only around half the heads and a+ third of teachers felt there was better continuity with secondaries. "There + is evidence of some bitterness from primary school teachers, working on 5-14 + related issues within their liaison groups, who feel they are investing effort + which is disregarded by secondary staff," according to the researchers. The + programme was introduced in 1991 and began by focusing on English language and + mathematics. Ministers want it to be fully implemented by summer 1999 but the + study reports many schools will fail to introduce all aspects by that date.The + latest SCRE survey, carried out between March 1995 and March 1997, found most + schools had developed at least one curriculum area beyond maths and English and+ that most felt the assessment guidelines had a strong influence on their + practice. Teachers' confidence had increased. Despite repeated assertions from + the unions about workload, the researchers say there is little evidence that + staff were finding it difficult to cope with the "cumulative demands" as the + programme developed.Teachers' worries were eased as they became more familiar + with the guidelines. Support from Government documentation and education + authorities helped, along with school-bas ed in-service and work in planned + activity time.By April 1996, over half the schools were proceeding with + environmental studies guidelines, about half were moving on religious and + moral education and under half in expressive arts. Teachers said they were + satisfied with the progress. Almost all schools had introduced planning sheets + based on 5-14 and over 75 per cent of teachers had changed the curriculum + content they taught. In maths, more time was spent on practical and + context-based activities, problem-solving and investigations. Teachers placed + more emphasis in English on talking and listening skills and on achieving a + better balance of functional, personal and imaginative writing.Half the + teachers claimed they used more subject-based teaching and many schools were + developing or buying new resources. Almost 75 per cent felt they had increased + their use of published schemes.Ms Malcolm and Ms Schlapp say: "There was no + evidence of the trend towards whole-class teaching that some teachers had + predicted at an early stage of the evaluation, and indeed over half of the + teachers believed they gave more emphasis to differentiation than in the past."+ Attainment groups were more popular.Most teachers said assessment guidelines + were influencing practice, assessment was more focused and that they were + satisfied with the revised procedures. Any dissatisfaction was down to a + failure to recognise the usefulness of assessment and a perception that it was + overly time-consuming and generated excessive paperwork.Nearly all schools had + carried out national tests and many teachers reported the tests only confirmed + their judgements and that time could have been used more constructively. "There+ seemed to be a lack of recognition that the purpose of the tests was to + provide this confirmation," according to the researchers.Teachers agreed they + were better at recording pupils' progress and used a wider variety of methods. + The most common complaint was that the records were over-complex and took up + too much time. Parents were generally happy with the information they + received.Curiously, almost half the parents did not know schools were working + to the 5-14 programme but two-thirds said children's progress was reported in + terms of levels they understood. Almost all heads thought their school + development plan was a useful mechanism for pacing change and almost half that + the management team should decide when the school should move onto the next + implementation area. Heads were finding it difficult to set aside time to + monitor teachers' forward plans."Impediments to progress were cited as a lack + of resources, including time, the EIS workload campaign, pressure to depart + from the agreed school development plan, staff changes and uncertainty fuelled + by local government reorganisation.""5-14 in the primary school: a continuing + challenge", by Heather Malcolm and Ursula Schlapp, is published by the + Scottish Council for Research in Education, price #163;11.50.

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