Government cash is encouraging schools to focus narrowly on maths and literacy. Helen Ward reports
Primary schools are shunning the arts to focus on maths and English in a Pounds 25 million government scheme, official figures reveal.
They show that almost two-thirds of primary schools in learning networks of up to eight schools are concentrating on either maths, literacy or both.
Just 4 per cent of networks are proposing to focus on the arts and another 4 per cent on languages.
The Department for Education and Skills figures show the extent to which primary schools now feel under pressure to concentrate on the core subjects to perform well in league tables.
Heads have long complained that creativity is being squeezed out and that children as young as five have increasing amounts of English and maths.
Thousands of primaries rushed to sign up to learning networks, which can bid for pound;12,000 for professional development aimed at improving a specific aspect of learning, such as boys' writing.
The Government provided an extra incentive to those choosing to share mathematical expertise - a further pound;2,000. Individual schools share the cash.
Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter university, was not surprised that most networks are focusing on maths and English. "As long as there are league tables, anybody would do what they're doing," he said.
Tim Coulson, director of the National Numeracy Strategy, said: "Schools which sign up may recognise an aspect of literacy or mathematics is the key aim for them - they have decided that for themselves.
"Heads were pleased to see Excellence and Enjoyment (the National Primary Strategy) say it is not just literacy and numeracy which matter. But literacy and numeracy are the most important subjects to get right and they are hard to get right."
Ministers believe that learning networks are the single most important way to help primaries to improve. They want the majority of the 18,000 primaries in England to be part of one by 2008, and all of them eventually.
They funded 1,500 networks, covering 9,000 schools, and the scheme was oversubscribed.
Network action plans have to be approved by the local authority and the National Primary Strategy, and the first were being implemented this term.
Schools are expected to work with the others in their network for a minimum of two years.
The DfES statistics show that improving the use of information and communications technology was the most popular non-core subject among the networks, being chosen by 14 per cent.
The remaining 13 per cent are focusing on topics such as special needs or assessment for learning.