Professor deplores `political reforms'

11th November 1994 at 00:00
The national curriculum, together with its attainment targets, and the move towards greater subject specialisation in primary schools are red herrings that merely improve how a teacher organises in the classroom rather than address the needs of children, according to a controversial new book.

Crisis in the Primary Classroom claims that educational reforms are taking place in a pedagogic vacuum in the UK. More should be done to learn about the process of teaching according to author Maurice Galton, professor of primary education at Leicester University.

He said: "Considerable res- ources have been put into increasing the knowledge base of primary teachers but so far the evidence from surveys of key stage 1 and 2 has not indicated marked improvements in these aspects of practice, other than in planning. A better choice may be to avoid the need to specialise at primary level and concentrate instead on improving children's motivation, developing self-esteem, providing basic skills and citizenship."

Professor Galton's account of the recent educational legislation and reforms tells a story of high political intrigue and personal ambition. He says of the Dearing Report: "Any consideration of both the interim and final Dearing reports must recognise that they are essentially political and not educational documents. A crucial factor in the appointment of Sir Ron Dearing, in preference to the favoured candidate of the right wing of the Conservative party, David Pascall, was the increasing hostility to government policy of the National Association of Head Teachers - a more 'conservative' association than its rival Secondary Heads Association."

He said that the succession of education secretaries, all trying to make their own mark, exacerbated an already turbulent and stressful time for primary teachers.

This highly charged political atmosphere, he said, has muddied the debate on how to teach; making it a spurious battle between progressive and traditionalist methods. By setting up progressive Aunt Sallies it was easy for ministers to mock so-called child-centred teaching satirised as messing about with egg boxes and sandpits.

But it is not just the right-wing politicians who are for ideological reasons concentrating on whole-class teaching, subject specialisation in primary schools and streaming: "Even the futon socialists are going down the same road. The biggest cheers at the Labour party conference were at talk of sacking bad teachers and raising standards," said Professor Galton.

Yet the study of pedagogy - the "science of the art of teaching" - is vital for devising teaching strategies that will lead to an improvement in standards.

In conclusion Professor Galton said: "The crisis in the primary curriculum will not disappear simply by reducing the demands of the national curriculum and providing a moratorium for teachers to master the various programmes of study and revised assessment procedures. Curriculum building needs to start from the opposite direction, where relationships between learning and teaching are clearly articulated and the nature of knowledge required by various task demands, as these relate to how children think and learn, made explicit. "

"Crisis in the Primary Classroom" by Maurice Galton will be published on November 24 by David Fulton, Pounds 12.99.

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