Put aside the egg cartons, says the chief inspector of schools, literacy skills must come first. Biddy Passmore reports
PRIMARY teachers should stop wasting time on building Greek temples out of egg cartons and concentrate on teaching children to read and write, according to Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools.
Too much time was spent on non-essential activities such as pupils colouring objects beginning with the letter B, standing in bedraggled groups on street corners counting cars and "grinding their way through mind-numbingly tedious work sheets".
Much of this was done to keep the class happy while teachers concentrated on individual children rather than whole-class teaching.
Mr Woodhead, addressing the right-wing think tank Politeia this week, blamed misguided educational philosophies and weak leadership in schools:
"a toxic mix of educational beliefs and mismanagement".
But the chief inspector was sympathetic to teachers' complaints about their administrative workload. Many teachers, especially in primary schools, were expected to produce resources that took longer to make than to use, he said.
They wasted time at meetings with no agenda, burnt midnight oil producing work schemes and making individual records of children's achievement that would not be looked at again. "I hate to agree with Doug (McAvoy) and Nigel (de Gruchy) but I do think they have a point," he said.
Mr Woodhead called for primary teachers to be given more non-contact time to prepare classes and learn from others, indicating that this was more important than sticking to a strict policy of reducing all classes to a maximum of 30.
The teachers he saw in schools would rather teach a class of 33 with another adult than a class of 27 on their own, he said. If non-contact time was thrown in as well, this became "quite an attractive package".
Mr Woodhead gave little support to calls for higher funding for schools. He said there was "no inspections evidence to suggest that schools were on the whole underfunded to do the job they were expected to do".
One in 10 primary schools and a quarter of secondaries were judged by inspectors not to have enough books, but this could mean individual schools had not budgeted well or had to spend money maintaining expensive old buildings.
The chief inspector said that the question of whether schools would do better with more money was "difficult and intensely political", and that he was happy to leave it to the politicians - although he could not "bottle out completely".
New funding would enable schools to repair buildings, update equipment and reduce class sizes. But what mattered ultimately, he said, was "how teachers teach, not the quality of resources or the state of the building".
Mr Woodhead did, however, argue for a more equitable distribution of resources to local education authorities and schools, stressing the differences in spending per pupil between authorities with similar needs and in the amounts they delegated to schools.