Welcome return of inspiration

8th June 2007 at 01:00
Slowly, quietly, primary schools are being transformed. The subject-based teaching that has dominated primary classrooms is being replaced by a thematic approach that echoes the practice of the 1970s and 1980s. Equally important, creativity is breaking out everywhere.

After a decade during which the Government-imposed literacy and numeracy hours have reigned supreme, primary teachers are again beginning to do their own thing. Sessions designed to help teachers to create their own curriculum are booming and a TES survey reveals today that four out of five primaries have either abandoned subject teaching or are about to do so.

The Government has played its part in encouraging the shift. Its paper, Excellence and Enjoyment, published four years ago, acknowledged the need to make the primary curriculum more fun and more imaginative. But schools are only just beginning to pluck up the courage to respond.

The reason for the Government's change of heart was clear enough. As Ofsted points out in a series of reports on schools that have adopted the new flexible approach, it works. In short, schools that have created their own curriculum are often very successful.

Theme-based teaching has its pitfalls. The "three wise men's" report that led to its fall from favour in the early 1990s complained that it led to superficial teaching. Some also worry that children will be unable to cope with the transition to secondary school, where the timetable is subject-based. Tight planning is essential.

This time round, schools are continuing with some subject lessons. None of the objections outweighs the gain to primary education demonstrated in schools such as Balsall Common primary in Solihull (page 1). It is common sense that teachers will be more enthusiastic about lessons they have devised than about a curriculum handed down to them by officialdom. That enthusiasm means interested and motivated pupils. Innovation leads to inspiration.

Schools still have to meet the demands of tests, targets and league tables.

So it is to the huge credit of primary teachers that they have been brave enough to press ahead with changes that will improve their pupils'


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