What has happened to primary teachers in England? As a freelance educational consultant travelling around the country, I see a climate of fear and insecurity.
Since the introduction of the national literacy and numeracy strategies, teachers have felt a duty to teach in the manner prescribed in their frameworks. Teachers have also been under pressure from external agencies, such as local authority inspectors and the Office for Standards in Education. Once, when I gave out an advice sheet, a teacher said: "Is it all right to use this, then?"
Our whole primary system seems governed by fear. Fear of teaching an unsatisfactory lesson, fear of not reaching targets, fear of poor Sats results and fear of a poor Ofsted. It is time for the profession to debate these issues, to think of teaching and learning methods as things that are evolving, things educators can affect.
We can begin by looking at the document Excellence and Enjoyment, which launched the Primary Strategy in May 2003. An attempt to provide a more cohesive approach to the curriculum, it contains much that should be shouted from the school rooftops. For example: "We want schools to continue to focus on raising standards while not being afraid to combine that with making learning fun. Our goal is for every primary school to combine excellence in teaching with enjoyment of learning."
The document also says primaries should "take ownership of the curriculum, shaping it and making it their own", and that they should be "creative and innovative in how they teach and run the school".
The national curriculum and the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies can either be seen as springboards for teaching, or as a set of constraints. Excellence and Enjoyment states: "A central message of this document is that teachers have the power to decide how they teach, and that the Government supports that."
Most schools have already adapted the literacy strategy to suit their needs; it is a flexible structure that should be set within a detailed, planned curriculum. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has published Designing and Timetabling the Primary Curriculum, which offers guidance on making links between subjects, with case studies.
It says English and maths are best taught separately, but there are areas where these can be integrated into other subjects. In order not to increase workload, it would be helpful if schools planned a couple of "mini-topics" per year group. These could be built up over time so that there is a resource bank of topics.
I can hear teachers saying: "But what about Ofsted?" The primary strategy document says: "The National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies, though they are supported strongly, are not statutory and can be adapted to meet particular needs. Ofsted will recognise and welcome good practice."
It goes on to give a case study of an inner-city primary school: "The curriculum needs to be exciting. In our case, this means building in quality, not quantity, so that children learn first hand. The curriculum needs to widen children's perspectives, so links to the English National Ballet, to theatre groups and others are essential."
Modern primaries are obsessed with written planning. One teacher told me she spent so much time writing down her planning that she did not have time to think creatively about how to teach certain objectives.
The primary strategy document says: "Teachers' time should be used for aspects of planning that are going to be useful for their own purposes, and which have a direct impact upon the quality of learning and teaching."
In the section aimed at headteachers, it says: "It is important to monitor the quality and impact of teachers' planning. This does not mean you need to see everyone's plans each week. Encourage staff to use and adapt existing plans."
Schools are under intense pressure to "prepare" children. One reception teacher said she was feeling the pressure to get her children (four and five-year-olds) ready for the Year 2 tests. The Government insists the tests are here to stay, but in which format?
A trial is already under way to reduce the impact of tests at key stage 1.
Why not extend this trial to KS2? Primary schools should be hotbeds of creativity and innovation. Let's teach in a way that will lead to higher standards and inspired children.
Excellence and Enjoyment can be downloaded from: www.standards.dfes.gov.ukprimaryabout556698?version=1Designing and timetabling the primary curriculum can be downloaded from: www.qca.org.ukages3-145-142799.html