Primary standard praised

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
Secondary teachers should not blame primary schools, according to Eric Clark, a primary headteacher in St Andrews, who wrote (TESS, February 6, 1976):

"I do not think the ordinary primary classroom teacher has been hoodwinked by the talk and writings of remote theorists. She still has the very sound idea that a child should be able to tell her that 7x5=35, and that on occasion the attempt to explain the thinking behind the fact can confuse rather than clarify the thinking of her less numerate pupils.

"Again, however, there will always be a large number of children who cannot remember arithmetical processes, much less understand them.

"Why then do we get this persistent and unjustified criticism of the primary schools that we have let standards slip - particularly from our secondary colleagues? Can I suggest one reason?

"I spent the first 13 years of my teaching in the old-style junior secondary schools. Year after year, I accepted children who had been saturated with endless hours of arithmetic and formal English and, despite the perpetual barrage, they could not read, they could not write and they could not count. I know; I was there.

"With the coming of the all-through comprehensive secondary school, those children who, in earlier days, were brushed under the junior secondary school carpet were revealed to large numbers of secondary teachers who had never realised they existed.

"Time and age may have blurred my memory, but I do not think I often - in my junior secondary teaching days - criticised my primary colleagues for the often abysmal academic standards of the children I received from them.

I knew they had worked hard and long with these children. Can we in the primary schools ask for a similar sympathy and understanding from our present secondary colleagues?

"Perhaps this is the time for those of us in primary education who reject the criticism of a decline in standards to stand up and not only be counted but be heard also.

"If we allow steady criticism to go unanswered, we may actually come to believe that we have let valuable standards decline - and that would be very serious."

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