Primaries squeezing the arts into tight corners

6th October 1995 at 01:00
Arts subjects and design and technology are getting a raw deal in too many primary schools. Music, art and design and technology have a low status even though they are foundation subjects, and drama and dance are either being ignored or "squeezed into timetable or resource-strapped strait-jackets because of the national curriculum and rising class sizes".

This worrying verdict has been delivered by researchers at Exeter University who have questioned student teachers about their teaching practice experiences.

The researchers also conclude that a high proportion of primary staff need in-service training in the five subjects and express concern about teachers' reluctance to assess children's performance.

Some of the 99 students that they questioned about their first full-term and final teaching practices had received useful help with their teaching and assessment of arts subjects, but most had not.

This problem could be eased if students had access to schools' subject co-ordinators as well as class teachers, the researchers say.

Only a minority of the schools that the students trained in had a systematic art programme that met national curriculum requirements. Most found that art was used to support topic work, and one commented: "I didn't do much art at all, any we did do wasn't really focused, it was just: 'Oh, let's do a bit of art this afternoon'."

The 19 students who had been able to learn from a dance specialist were enthusiastic about the experience but others reported that aerobics had been taught as dance or that country dancing was the only style the children encountered.

Teachers' lack of DT knowledge - or reluctance to share it - was also mentioned by several students, who said that their university experience of DT, though useful, was also insufficient.

Drama posed problems, too, as fewer than one in 10 students had been able to learn from a specialist. "Some students were warned off drama, being advised that sessions can easily get out of control," says the report.

"Other teachers' lack of subject knowledge, compounded by its precarious presence in the national curriculum, resulted in the claim that drama is difficult to assess."

Students' accounts of music teaching were equally worrying. Teachers tended to rely on BBC broadcasts or hand over responsibility to music specialists, many of whom appeared to have a poor grasp of current teaching methods.

"The students suggested that specialists are asked to take a subject of little or no interest to the rest of the staff," the researchers say. "In one case the effect was to turn off the student completely from the idea of teaching music."

Ready or not? A study of the degree of readiness of primary teachers to train students in teaching the arts and design and technology in schools, by Susan Chedzoy, Nick Givens, Linda Green, Wendy Harris, Robin Mitchell, Christopher Naughton, Linda Rolfe and William Standton, Exeter University School of Education.

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