Well done, keep trying;Leading Article;Opinion

9th July 1999 at 01:00
Good news and words of praise and understanding are particularly welcome in primary teaching. This week's report from OFSTED on the outcomes of four years of primary school inspections bring good news in two ways.

First, standards are rising. Not only are more pupils succeeding in their national tests, but inspection evidence shows that teachers are teaching better in both the three Rs and subjects such as art and history.

The second piece of good news is that in this report, Primary Education 1994-98: a review of primary schools in England, OFSTED clearly recognises how difficult it has all been for teachers - that this improvement has come about against a background of "considerable turbulence" and change. "In many respects, these reforms have been welcome, and indeed essential," the report says. "However, there has hardly been a breathing space for primary schools since the 1988 Education Reform Act, let alone over the last four years."

It calls for a period of stability "in which to consolidate and build upon what, arguably, has been the most extensive programme of educational reform in living memory". This is not the first time a major report has made this call - Sir Ron Dearing made it forcefully in his proposals for slimming down the national curriculum in 1994, ironically, just at the start of the period covered by the OFSTED report. Perhaps it will be better heeded this time.

Even more importantly, the report acknowledges the extent of the problems faced by schools in disadvantaged areas and their stubborn tendency to achieve below national averages, despite their hard work. Instead of arguing, as Chief Inspector Chris Woodhead has done in the past, that because some inner city schools have achieved amazing successes through structured teaching and high expectations, there is no excuse for the others, the report says the conditions they face "are certainly sufficient to justify additional resources" and that there is a good case for ensuring better pupil-teacher ratios in such schools, especially in the infants.

That said, the news that there can be a discrepancy of over two years in a child's attainment between schools with similar intakes is little cause for complacency. Or, perhaps it is more good news: the scope for improvement is still great, and David Blunkett may yet meet his targets for 2002.

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