Spontaneity lost to assessment

22nd October 2004 at 01:00
So the Office for Standards in Education now judges teaching standards of the past as well as of today! I refer to David Bell's description of teaching standards in primary schools in the 1960s and 1970s as "crackers" (TES, October 8).

Certainly there were weaknesses - like the anarchic methods of the William Tyndale junior school (a national scandal in 1976) - but the enthusiasm and commitment of the vast majority of teachers ensured that children received a balanced and valuable education.

In 1976 I directed a team of 31 teacher-researchers who interviewed 893 teachers in 114 Nottinghamshire schools asking a battery of questions about how they taught. The report (Nine hundred primary school teachers NFER-Nelson 1978) describes how these teachers organised the work of their classes.

Bridget Plowden wrote the foreword, saying: "This most comprehensive report ... gives a great deal of information about the day by day work of a large number of teachers. ... Judging by the replies, there does not seem to be any danger of the schools in Nottinghamshire moving into the so-called 'progressive methods' in which 'children do as they please'. ... I believe that a national survey would similarly show that throughout the country teachers are in general responsibly structuring children's experience in the classroom. ... My overall impression from the report is of the variety of practice in these schools."

In that foreword Lady Plowden also put her finger on the key weakness of primary schools at that time: lack of planned progression. The evidence is that schools had their "outline syllabuses" in maths and English and sometimes other subjects, but there was little rigorous assessment of achievement in these, and in consequence little opportunity for monitoring individual progress and planning future work on the basis of achievement.

Primary education has now improved radically in this respect - and in other ways such as attention to spelling and punctuation and the structuring of mathematics. But the creative spontaneity of teaching in the 1960s and 1970s seems lost.

David Bell is right that there was too little evaluation of practice. What changes? The House of Commons select committee has recently belaboured Ofsted for not effectively evaluating its own practice.

Michael Bassey

4 Ordoyno Grove

Coddington, Nottinghamshire

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