Rebels with a cause in extra time

11th February 2005 at 00:00
Some of them are little gingerbread cottages surrounded by sheep.

Some are Victorian monstrosities off mean city streets. Some are angular suburban pre-fabs with leaky roofs. They are not invisible. They are primary schools.

So how come policy-makers consistently make the false assumption that all schools are secondaries? National curriculum? Of course, separately written and conceived subject content is best - and don't leave anything out.

Excellence in Cities? Let's start from the top down and bring in the schools that set children on their educational paths later. Workforce reform? All teachers traditionally have time in the school day for marking and preparation. They teach 40-minute lessons. And they work in institutions which are quite large.

Wait a minute. No, they don't.

The workforce agreement, particularly the plan to give teachers 10 per cent non-contact time, has been welcomed by the vast majority of staff. What's not to like?

In secondaries, it's been an unqualified boon. An experienced teaching assistant can provide cover for a physics class at least as well as an English teacher - better, because then schools have to provide them with the preparation and materials they need. Morale has been boosted, as teachers no longer fear being suddenly called to cover an alien subject and class in a free period.

In primary schools, it's more complicated. There is less room for flexibility in the funding of small schools, and the reforms require a difficult change in culture. In primaries, the boundary between teaching and supervision is much more blurry. Handing over a class to someone who is not a teacher, however well-prepared and well-suited, demands a sea-change in attitude. Many schools will worry about damaging standards. North primary in Colchester (see page 4) may be among the first to say it is breaking the law by using the PPA money for smaller classes rather than non-contact cover, but it is unlikely to be the last to say it won't or can't.

The Teacher Training Agency offers support rather than censure for schools not meeting September's deadline. Will the unions, who bargained hard for guaranteed non-contact time, be so understanding?

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