Need for another still small voice

7th April 1995 at 01:00
As The TES reported on March 10, I gave my support to the inaugural meeting of the National Primary Headteachers' Association (NPHA).

Not another educational pressure group, I can hear people say. Under most circumstances, I would agree, but not in this case. The House of Commons select committee's recent investigation into the disparity of funding between primary and secondary schools showed that there is a need for a clear, unambiguous voice to speak up for young children and their primary schools.

Our report made it plain that the argument for shifting the balance of future funding towards primary schools is not an argument for cutting back in secondary schools. Similarly, the new organisation is not - and should not be - in competition with other teachers' or parents' associations.

The NPHA is very new, and it would be unfair to expect too much of it yet. Even so, there is a substantial list of immediate tasks, none of which requires or will benefit from mere whingeing. The select committee's report set, inter alia, one agenda item.

If the aspirations of the national curriculum are to be realised, much remains to be done at local and national levels to persuade the decision-makers that they must provide adequate monitoring and support time for teachers in primary schools. The case for allowing co-ordinators to carry out these functions has already been well made.

It is, though, part of a broader issue that requires much more work: activity-led staffing formulas have been widely discussed for secondary schools; studies of the more flexible arrangements that are required in primary schools are still in their infancy.

An early task for the new organisation might be to persuade one of the likely educational trusts to fund a serious and substantial project to take the thinking further with the help of the association's members.

A modest start might be made by providing a centre that collects and distributes information about the funding practices and plans of different authorities.

Of course, there are other issues to consider, some with financial implications, to which groups of members might give prior thought. They could usefully collect and distribute descriptions of the effects of change. How is the Code of Practice for children with special educational needs working in primary schools? Will the changes in the national curriculum and its assessment processes meet the goals of freeing time for teachers and schools to pursue other aspects of learning and teaching, and reduce the load on teachers? What are the implications of any expansion of provision for the under-fives? How can the inspection programme best operate in the interests of children? What best improves continuity and progression between primary and secondary schools?

The new organisation will, I hope, provide a sharply-focused, practical and professional view on primary education to the local authorities, the Department for Education and the Secretary of State, to the Office for Standards in Education, the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and the Commons select committee among others, as well as to its members.

The NHPAmust be alert to change and ready to respond when an issue is live. I wish it well.

Sir Malcolm Thornton MP is chairman of the House of Commons education select committee.

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