So what's it like south of the border?
Once I had made my decision in December 1995, I started reading The TES Scotland each week and quickly realised that there were a lot of jobs going throughout England. Initially they were for posts requiring experience but soon after Easter jobs for newly qualified teachers started coming up. I avoided applying for inner-city schools and eventually ended up in a nice Cambridge primary which has great social problems and is in effect an inner-city school! I was drawn to it by its emphasis on promoting a positive behaviour policy and have gained expertise I would never have achieved in a rural, middle-class school.
My first big, and at the time pleasant, surprise was that I did not have to plan a topic at all. It was already done because the school has a two-year rolling plan which prevents the children duplicating any work. South of the border the Office for Standards in Education is keen for schools to be working on these long-term plans and once they are up and running medium-term plans have to be put into effect. These are topic plans which are all cross-referenced to the national curriculum and ensure all children get appropriate coverage of all curriculum subjects.
In effect this sounds great. It certainly saves in work and planning, and anything that can cut down extra time spent at home working is welcome because all new teachers I know complain about the resources they have to make because they haven't yet built up a resource bank.
However, after the initial pleasure of having my work cut down I have begun to notice the limitations. It reduces teacher autonomy almost completely, making it very difficult to go with an idea which fits the topic and suits your class. It can also impose a topic for which you may have little or no enthusiasm and consequently find hard to deliver to the class in a stimulating manner.
I have found working within the national curriculum can be frustrating and unsupportive. The whole key stage 1 and 2 document (covering all subject areas) is about the thickness of the 5-14 environmental studies document. Consequently, while it is statutory rather than being guidelines, in areas such as maths and language it offers less support about what the children should be achieving within each level. However, areas such as information technology are more concise and clear cut with steps laid out for each level. But there are also anomalies. For example, an infant child who achieves a level 3 in writing would achieve only a level 2 for the same piece on entering the junior classes. So the continuity found within the 5-14 curriculum appears to be lacking.
One feature I am very aware of is that in years 2 and 6 the emphasis shifts subtly after Christmas from covering a broad curriculum to teaching towards the national curriculum with teachers trying to cram as much information into the children as possible. Consequently, I don't feel there is the consolidation of work children might require and they end up doing work by rote rather than confidently and with understanding.
At the end of the day, though, this is only one school and children are children the world over. It is not possible to make them learn what they are unable to learn and you have to trust your instincts. No matter where you are teaching or what curriculum you are following, you have to plan work which suits the children in your care without under or overestimating their abilities.
Jennifer Brockbank trained as a teacher in Scotland and works in England.