Stephen Twigg, the primary schools minister, is aiming for the right balance between prescription and professional freedom. Helen Ward reports.
AS first days go, it was not the best.
Stephen Twigg took over responsibility for primary schools the day before the league tables were published showing the Government had missed its national test targets for 11-year-olds.
He immediately stated the targets for 2004 would remain while admitting that the goal of 85 per cent of 11-year-olds reaching the expected level 4 in both English and maths is "very ambitious".
After years of focus on primary education, ministers have now swung the spotlight onto secondary schools and higher education. But being responsible for primary schools and the literacy and numeracy strategies is hardly a low-profile position.
Mr Twigg wrote to all heads and chairs of governors this week to congratulate them on their success in raising standards. But he wants to see more.
This year, alongside the English and maths results, schools' value-added scores will be published. Mr Twigg is keen to make these scores, which rate schools on the progress their pupils make between Years 2 and 6, part of the mainstream agenda. He said: "One of the most striking things is how schools with similar circumstances produce very different results."
Nationally, the Department for Education and Skills has estimated that pupils at one in four schools make too little progress.
Mr Twigg said: "These are not necessarily the schools with the lowest results, they cover quite a broad range of schools in terms of performance and intake."
With changes to the tests this year and less than 18 months until the crucial 2004 sittings, more support is being offered to schools. This term there will be:
* two-day workshops for a third of Year 6 teachers
* funding for 1,000 Easter schools for Year 6 pupils
* a pilot project in 18 authorities focusing on how teaching assistants can support Year 6 classes.
Education Secretary Charles Clarke wants to ensure the Government keeps its eye on the primary ball. And he intends to continue the emphasis on literacy and numeracy, said Mr Twigg.
Critics have said ministers' desire to control literacy and numeracy teaching could undermine its goal of higher results by discouraging innovation and weakening the rest of the curriculum.
Mike Tomlinson, former chief inspector of schools, told the North of England Conference this week that teachers should be given more say in implementing the literacy and numeracy strategies and that the Government should get away from "one-size-fits-all" policies.
But Mr Twigg told The TES that schools already have some flexibility. "We need to get the balance right. No one seriously wants to go back to the days when there was no central direction, no setting of targets, no nationwide performance assessment.
"People accept a framework and that there has to be accountability. Our side of the bargain is that we have to respect the professional judgment of teachers. If we do that we are more likely to be successful in our objectives." he said.
The department's standards unit has now brought the literacy and numeracy strategies under a single umbrella primary strategy, and has appointed Dr Kevan Collins, former deputy director of the National Literacy Strategy to head it. But Mr Twigg ruled out any major changes to the individual strategies.
"I'm prepared to look at examples of good practice where they are delivering the improvements we want. But it is too early for me to say this could change or that could change," he said.
"I want to start by looking at how we could have a number of models of good practice which demonstrate how an effective numeracy and literacy strategy can go hand in hand with the enrichment of our primary schools."
Primary Forum, 19