More resources and more rigour in the US

28th February 1997 at 00:00
I recently returned with some of my staff from a week's visit to a very successful elementary school in the suburbs of Boston.

Much to our surprise the complaints at the top of teachers' agendas were familiar.

They are fed up with being told that American pupils, generally, are at the bottom of the international league tables and that teachers are to blame. Class sizes ranged from 17 to 24. (The average in my school is 32). They complained of shortage of space - the rooms were in fact about 10 metres square giving each pupil an average of between 4 and 5 square metres. (For my school it is below the old recommended 1.8 square metres per pupil). Just how are adjustments made for the factors of class size and space adjusted for when producing the international league tables in which we apparently fare so badly?

While there are many similarities between the two systems, both in philosophy and practice, it is the resource differences which stand out and which are too big to ignore.

* Class size and classroom size; * purpose-built gymnasium and full-time specialist PE teacher who created non-contact time for class teachers; * purpose-built auditorium with stage; * specialist full-time music and art teachers who also created regular non-contact time for class teachers; * specialist full-time special educational needs teachers; * full-time librarian; * full-time nurse, full-time pupil counsellor and part-time speech therapist; * full-time lunchtime and bus co-ordinator; * average pupil spending of app-roximately Pounds 3,000 in the US against Pounds 1,200 in the UK.

Other more subtle, but none the less important, differences were that American teachers remain academic for the whole of their careers. Recertification and the nature of in-service training (generally from institutions of higher learning) involve teachers in theoretical ideas and academic reading in a way not seen in this country. This is evident in conversations with staff, as American teachers defend their practice with theoretical rigour. Academic rigour is simply not part of the English primary education culture.

The resource differences above arise from a different set of precepts upon which the system is built. In this country we have literally built on our Victorian origins. The original concept for primary education of one teacher in a box with x number of pupils for the whole day remains largely unchanged. It's akin to Rover trying to build a competitive car for today's market using the production line of yesteryear - it won't work.

What is required is a brave rethink and a radical new model to take primary education into the next millennium.

STEVE HANNATH St Bartholomew's CE School The Rosary Wootton Bassett Swindon Wilts

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