Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Literacy and Numeracy Strategies to be abandoned in UK schools

It seems the government has finally realised how it has been squeezing the life out of learning with its Literacy and Numeracy strategies...


"Key schools policy to be ditched

The government is set to abandon one of its most significant education policies in primary schools in England.

From 2011 schools will no longer have to implement national strategies in literacy and numeracy.

Instead they will be encouraged to work together to find local solutions to the challenges of improving the basic skills of their pupils.

The plans are part of wider reforms to be announced by Schools Secretary Ed Balls next week.

Primary schools in England have been expected to teach English and maths according to centralised guidelines set down by national literacy and numeracy strategies for more than 10 years.

BBC News education correspondent Kim Catcheside says standards improved rapidly at first but have risen much more slowly in recent years.

More from Today programme

Mr Balls will say that from 2011 he is ending the multi-million pound contract with private company Capita to deliver the strategies.

The Guardian reports that money will be redirected to schools to spend on creating networks with other schools and having their own advisers to help improve teaching standards and pupils' performance.

The paper says the changes will be part of a wide-ranging White Paper expected to be published on Tuesday.

Classroom overhaul

Earlier this month, Mr Balls told a teaching conference: "I think the right thing for us to do now is to move away from what has historically been a rather central view of school improvement through national strategies to something which is essentially being commissioned not from the centre but by schools themselves."

Earlier this year former Ofsted chief Sir Jim Rose produced a report for the government on a proposed overhaul of primary schools in England. He recommended that computer technology should be central to the curriculum alongside English, maths and personal skills.

And ministers have agreed to the findings of a group of educationists and headteachers who said formal Sats tests for 10 and 11-year-olds might eventually be replaced by teacher assessments of their pupils."

The Guardian has commented on this news here:


"...Today's Guardian reports that the government is to abandon its national strategies for schools when it announces its white paper on education next week. That means that the much-loathed literacy and numeracy hours in primaries, with their rigid, minute-by-minute dictation of how every teacher must structure and deliver their lesson, will stop being compulsory from 2011. Instead schools will be able to make their own choices about what their children need and how they should teach.

This, coming from a department whose controlling and centralising instincts would have been applauded in a Soviet state, is truly revolutionary. It is a (very) belated recognition that treating children and classrooms as if they were car parts and assembly lines is a strategy that simply doesn't produce skilled, or educated, or motivated pupils.

It's taken the government years to acknowledge this, because for the first few years of the national strategies, after Labour's election in 1997, test results soared. Ministers preened themselves. Everyone else knew it was because teachers were swiftly discovering how to teach children to the test.

Once they'd learned how to do that, nothing improved. The test results at 11 have more or less plateaued in the last six or seven years.

The strategies don't work at any level other than the most superficial.

Teachers feel helpless when they are in front of classes that aren't grasping the points at the speed the national timetable lays down. There is no flexibility. The national plan compels a teacher to move on, no matter how many children are being left behind. Frantic booster classes at ages seven and 11 teach children the short-term tricks they must know to get them through Sats tests.

Even those who can keep up find the lessons stultifying. Some years ago English teachers in secondaries started reporting that 11-year-old children were arriving saying they hated the subject. For years they'd been exposed to passages by brilliant writers like Michael Morpurgo or Philip Pullman, but not in order to be enraptured by their stories or taken into another world by their prose. No, it was in order to analyse their paragraphs and identify how many adjectives and nouns they had used.

It's hard to know what has finally forced this change. Perhaps it's the shaming results of the department's latest wheeze; the piloting of new single-level tests in English and maths to replace the Sats at 11.

These are supposed to be taken – like music exams – when a child is ready.

What the pilots have revealed is that 14-year-olds are regularly scoring much lower in the tests than 11-year-olds.

There's only one explanation for this, which is that children were never really understanding their subject in the first place; they were just being crammed, and a few years on, they've forgotten how to do it.

Should we be pleased that the government has finally recognised this truth?

I don't think so. I think the appropriate reaction is fury about the wasted years."

Some of the comments under this Guardian article are sad, as well as revealing. One person comments:

"This morning, my glee at the demise of the strategies was short lived. There can be no party for the lost years. My own children have endured these trite,unimaginative lessons, their individuality and imagination stifled, their love of aforementioned Morpurgo and Pullman only present because of having parents who were insistent that they should pick up a book to read and enjoy and not ascertain and scrutinize the sentence level and structure.

As a teacher, I was disenfranchised, disempowered, constantly speeding up or rather "pacing" my lessons to get through the objectives, irrespective of the needs of the children in my charge. Countless pieces of unfinished work or unread literature that just got washed away by the need to move onto the nextset of CVCs or the learning of "where, wear, ware".

Even now, I get palpatations at the thought, and for those contributers who say why didn't teachers just do what they thought was right, well, how could we? With didactic headteachers breathing down our necks and the impending requirements of an Ofsted regime fixated on test results, we were stymied."

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