Unions warn of 'system collapse'

Some schools may not be able to cope with the added pressure caused by moves to raise standards, reports Geraldine Hackett

THE Government's attempts to raise standards could lead to the system collapsing under the weight of the extra work being piled on primary schools, according to the leader of one of the largest teachers' unions.

Problems are likely to emerge next year when schools will be required to introduce a numeracy strategy alongside the literacy hour that has begun this term.

Speaking at the annual education conference of the National Union of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, its general secretary, Nigel de Gruchy, said there was a danger that some schools would not be able to cope with the twin initiatives.

"We have had a mixed response to the literacy hour. There are schools that are managing well. In others, teachers complain they are working until midnight on lesson plans. When the numeracy strategy is introduced next year the system could collapse under its own weight," he said.

In what will be seen as a setback to ministers' aims of raising standards in maths, the latest test results for 11-year-olds show a decline in the proportion of children achieving the expected level.

While ministers have claimed the decline can be accounted for by changes in the tests, Mr de Gruchy suggested the results might be in part due to the difficulties in recruiting high calibre maths graduates to the profession.

However, Professor David Reynolds, chairman of the Government's numeracy task force, said he was optimistic that the target of 75 per cent of 11-year-olds achieving the expected grade by 2002 would be reached.

He told the conference that the shift to whole-class interactive teaching in maths would be exhausting for teachers, but would produce results.

Research suggests the variation in maths results between schools is greater in numeracy than in literacy.

"What we have picked up is that teachers are cynical about being told what do by the same people who at an earlier stage told them do something different, " he said.

The project directors, he said, had identified concerns about teaching a whole class where there was wide range of ability. Professor Reynolds suggested there might be a need to develop short-term intervention programmes on the lines of Reading Recovery in literacy.

Teachers at the conference complained that they had not been consulted about the literacy strategy. Tony Arthur from Warwickshire said his primary school members resented the imposition of the literacy hour and had felt insulted at the quality of some of training material.

Sarah Bowrie from Leeds said teachers were now taking a stance of resistance. "We have been told for the past 10 years that nothing we do is right. We have no objection to being told what to teach. What we object to is being told how to teach."

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