Is too much expectedof primary teachers?

10th October 1997 at 01:00
First, science and now modern languages. Concern about aspects of the primary curriculum grows. The often remarked problem with the 5-14 guidelines is that they require a polymath to implement them successfully. Put another way, it takes a raft of S1 and S2 teachers to carry on the work of a sole occupant of the P7 classroom.

Recent research shows that science and technology are areas with which many primary teachers remain uncomfortable. Languages demand extra training and in introducing them at the Government's behest primary schools are beginning to get specialist staff: armed with 160 hours of French, one teacher may take several classes before reverting to a Jill-of-all-trades role in her own room.

It is not necessarly a contradiction to argue for S1 pupils to have fewer teachers while the upper primary gets more. If that happens, the contrast between the sectors will be less. Not all children shrink from the range of new experiences in S1. Many relish the variety compared with what they look back on as the monotony of primary.

Among the problems with primary languages identified in a report by Paisley University for East Ayrshire (page five) is a lack of "embedding" in the curriculum. Certainly, an introduction to French (or, less likely, another European language) stands apart from the rest of 5-14, presumably because the Government initiative - first as a pilot and more recently across the country - was developed after the bases of 5-14 had been established. Use of drop-in teachers is blamed for the detached nature of the subject.

Putting a practical gloss on the report, East Ayrshire suggests that in-service add-ons are not going to turn enough primary teachers into language handlers. Some schools go short. Training is a drain on budgets. Therefore the onus should fall on pre-service. There is no surprise in a council taking that view. It shifts the cost from local authority to college. If it is successful, time will ensure a supply of new teachers able to complement experienced colleagues who have had in-service language training. But that begs the question whether too much is expected of all primary teachers.

A degree of specialisation may come, rescuing non-scientists, non-linguists and the tone deaf. But it would be possible only in larger communities. The breadth of curriculum and the high percentage of one to three-teacher schools mean that generalism remains the norm. Le pont d'Avignon would fall down without environmental studies' "energy and forces".

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