David Budge and Maureen O'Connor end their reports from the British Educational Research Association conference.
The performance of junior schools will need to improve if the UK is to meet the national targets for education and training. But on current funding, schools would probably only be able to improve by limiting their efforts to a narrow, or even impoverished, core curriculum.
Fred Corbett, principal adviser to Essex, has reached this conclusion after taking part in a school improvement programme covering 25 of the county's primaries. The expansion of nursery provision and some increase in infant staffing would not be enough to bring about the desired improvements, he said.
Primaries would have to consider specialist subject teaching, enhanced roles for teaching assistants and other support staff, and the possibility of putting additional resources into the teaching of children who had reached level 4 and above. "We have to ask if the present cheap primary school structure is capable of significant improvement," he told the conference.
Improving primary schools: insights and ideas from the first year of the Essex primary school improvement and research programme, Fred Corbett, Essex CC, and Geoff Southworth, University of Cambridge.