Primary teachers should have less 'expertise'

5th March 2010 at 00:00

It is perhaps no more than coincidence that while Jim Conroy and Lindsay Paterson trade metaphorical blows over the intellectual rigours of the BEd (February 12 and 19), primary teachers face yet another call for yet more training in yet another subject.

Jonathan Robertson's use of "supposed" in his claim that most primary teachers have foreign language skills "not much greater than the children they are supposed to be teaching" does its best to minimise any distinction between pedagogical dexterity and knowledge-transfer.

Anybody with experience of primary teaching knows the skill lies in how you teach, not necessarily what you teach and certainly not what you know. Not many are medieval historians, but they still teach topics on knights and castles. Few are meteorologists, but they still teach the water cycle.

In an age where information is cheap and everybody scrambles to be an "expert", would it be so idiotic to suggest that primary schools might benefit from a little less "expertise"? Pupil-led lessons, exploratory methodologies, collaborative and co-operative working: I could go on. The fact is, few things generate a greater love for learning in your average 10-year-old than discovering they know something their teacher doesn't.

Fear not. Apparently, postgraduates with what Professor Paterson calls their "intellectual advantages" are here to save us from the hordes of innumerate monolinguals. If, as he suggests, postgraduates benefit from "some properly-developed understanding of a body of significant knowledge", it is perhaps worth pointing out that this acquisition was arrived at via the same narrowly-defined concept of teaching alluded to by Mr Robertson. Viewing the primary classroom through the lecture theatre gives you a poor model of how you'd want that classroom to be run.

Continuing professional development will be peddled as the principle mode of correction, and I'm willing to bet there are a disproportionate number of postgraduate "experts" delivering tips, tricks and tactics. Nevertheless, I can't help thinking of that tired old maxim: primary teachers love children, secondary teachers love their subject and academics love themselves. Question is, who loves a policy adviser?

Alan Nicholson, research student, School of Education, University of the West of Scotland.

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