Ofsted slates skills of staff

12th December 2003 at 00:00
Inspectors blame failure to raise test scores on teachers' poor English and maths knowledge, reports Jon Slater

Teachers' poor grasp of English and maths is to blame for primary schools'

failure to meet government targets, chief inspector David Bell said this week.

Poor teaching and leadership have left schools ill-equipped to improve literacy and numeracy.

Mr Bell said that half of lesson were not good enough to help the most disadvantaged pupils. One in eight lessons is unsatisfactory and a "stubborn core" of a third remain merely satisfactory, according to a report by the Office for Standards in Education.

Leadership and management are poor in one in 10 schools for maths and one in seven for English, the report says. As a result, the Government is "rather unlikely" to hit its 2006 targets, Mr Bell said.

Mr Bell also warned that the Government faces a significant challenge in implementing its national primary strategy, which aims to broaden the curriculum.

One in three primaries has an unsatisfactory curriculum with many schools cutting back on other subjects to focus on literacy and numeracy.

"The strategy is beginning with a legacy of under-investment in training and support for the non-core foundation subjects (with the exception of ICT) which has implications for its successful development," the report said.

Links between numeracy and literacy and other areas of the curriculum are "insufficiently developed", it added. For example, it said: "In a Year 6 geography lesson on the rain forest pupils tasted foods, used a computer program, painted their faces and engaged in drumming - all of which interested them - but their progress in knowledge skills and understanding of geography was minimal."

It calls for extra training for teachers to fill gaps in their subject knowledge and for the Government to direct attention and resources at under-performing authorities and schools.

The Government immediately announced that more than 1,000 primaries will get additional money to help raise standards.

But teachers' leaders reacted angrily to the report. Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "Teachers work to a set of performance targets determined by the Government. Ofsted should hold the Government to account for its strategies rather than undermining teachers who have held results steady for another year."

Chris Davis, chairman of the National Association of Primary Headteachers, said: "It is depressing to see a chief inspector who promised a more sensible regime choosing to demoralise teachers."

Improvements in literacy and numeracy were the main education success story of Labour's first term. By 2006, the Government expects 85 per cent of pupils to reach the level expected for their age in English and maths. But test scores have remained flat since 2000. Missed targets contributed to Estelle Morris's resignation as education secretary last year.

Ofsted reported that, in the five years since the introduction of the literacy strategy only eight out of 150 LEAs have seen the proportion of pupils reaching the standard in English increase every year. Seven LEAs have managed continuous improvements in maths since the numeracy strategy was introduced in 1999.

Mr Bell said both strategies had been successful in raising achievement but that improvements have become harder to win. He praised the quality of newly qualified staff but said that all teachers need a strong grasp of the two subjects to move pupils on to the next level and make links between lessons.

"Where teachers do not have that kind of knowledge they tend to be limited and insecure in encouraging pupils to do more," he said.

Satisfactory lessons, where teachers dominate and leave little time for pupils' contributions, are not good enough to help disadvantaged pupils reach the standard.

Stephen Twigg, education minister, admitted the Government is worried by the findings. He announced an extension of the Excellence in Cities primary pilot to schools with more than 35 per cent of pupils eligible for free meals.

"Of course this report is a cause for concern but what we have to do is focus on how we can bring about improvements."

The national literacy and numeracy strategies and the primary curriculum is available from www.ofsted.gov.uk

INSPECTORS' TEACHING TIPS

The one in eight lessons that is not good enough may look "superficially satisfactory", inspectors said this week. They warn clearly structured lessons derived from official frameworks and backed up by off-the-peg materials are not enough if the teaching itself is not up to scratch. Here are their tips...

Do...

* probe pupils' classroom answers and assess how they have reached them

* allow pupils to discuss tasks with partners or in groups

* adapt materials to take account of pupils' specific needs

* ensure that different subjects dovetail. Allow pupils to use their writing skills in science and get them reading about history.

* set clear lesson objectives

Don't

* put too much empasis on pupils working on their own

* focus on the work of one group to the exclusion of the rest

* talk too much. Give pupils a chance to contribute.

* make excessive use of worksheets. History, geography and religious education are the worst culprits

* forget to challenge higher-ability pupils

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