The still voice must become a deafening roar

10th December 2004 at 00:00
Peter Maher, the new chief executive of the National Primary Trust, has a dream

There is a strong sense within primary schools that they have no voice, and cannot influence political thinking. They believe the closed loop of favoured souls or focus-group opinion is inadequate, but that neither local and national politicians nor government officials listen carefully enough to the quiet voice of reason.

This contrasts with secondary, further and higher education where organisations dedicated specifically to their interests appear to have unlimited access and substantial pulling-power. It is as though policy-makers see only the last couple of legs of the educational relay race as important, while the first two legs are central to the outcome.

The National Primary Trust represents the quiet voice of reason; its broad and growing national membership and 10 years of working with primary teachers, supporting improvements through its networks, publications, conferences, seminars, research, training and ground-breaking projects qualifies it for that role. The Children's University and the national primary centres are NPT developments.

It is now nine weeks since I became chief executive and things will change under my guidance. We will work more effectively to support improvements in practice by engaging more directly with classroom teachers. This will be reflected in more responsive membership services, through a members' area of the website which goes live in the New Year, and as we build a stronger network to encourage teachers to share their practice and experiences.

Members will be encouraged to value their own training and experiences in joining collaborative action research communities within and between schools and sectors. We will make the National Primary Trust the "must join" organisation on every primary teacher's agenda.

Teachers are exasperated with initiative overload, the tug of war of opposing political dogmas and funding inequity. They have a clear view about what they need to be doing but are subject to the whim of politicians, and changes in political fashion. Teachers cope with this shifting sand remarkably well; where they can, they domesticate policy to suit their professional judgements and school circumstances.

However, the unremitting drive for higher standards has led us to exorcise much of the creativity and risk-taking from the profession; we have forgotten that these were the qualities of the teachers who left an indelible mark on our own development. Now the Department for Education and Skills and the Office for Standards in Education are crying out for some spark of imagination; for new ideas that could offer hope for a stagnating and moribund school system.

The National Primary Trust's message to ministers and the Department for Education and Skills is: listen more attentively to the voice of the primary sector - and listen at the point of policy formulation, not implementation; give greater weight to the role of primary schools in achieving long-term improvement; allow primary teachers to show you and the rest of the service what creativity in the classroom really means.

Our message to primary teachers is even simpler; add your name to the National Primary Trust and swell that voice of reason to a deafening roar.

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