Friday 29 February 2008

The 3Rs are more important than creating costumes for a parade

I fear I'm about to say something terribly controversial here. But as the monthly moan from the self-styled Primary Review (memo to excitable Independent subs: their report is no more 'official' than this blog) is treated as 'news', we should remind ourselves of a few home truths.

  • First, it is actually more important that children are taught to read, write and add up properly in primary school than that they learn to paint, sing or make costumes for a parade. This is not to say that they shouldn't do all of those things too, but unless children learn the basics they will become truants, criminals and welfare dependents. That was why the national curriculum emphasised English and Maths; it was why national tests were introduced; it was why the literacy and numeracy strategies were based on this fundamental truth; and it is why the government is rightly insisting that phonics are the basis of reading for young children. And measured in this way, primary schools are significantly better (though performance has slowed since 2000 and the further intervention now in place is needed to get them back on track).
  • Second, many primary schools were simply not doing this job properly before government 'intervened'. It is no accident that the biggest improvements in results - and in the quality of teaching as measured by Ofsted inspections - occurred between 1995 and 2000 when such intervention was at its strongest.
  • Third, before the late nineties, teachers were taught theory rather than how to teach, which meant that the basics were not being taught properly. Many of those at the heart of this 'primary review' failed a generation of schoolchildren who were not taught to read, not taught the rules of grammar, not taught to spell and rarely tested adequately because they didn't teach their teachers how to teach them.
  • And finally, those who want to de-emphasise the 3Rs in primary schools will not be failing the middle class kids whose parents will ensure their mastery at least of English, but poorer and working class kids who rely on the school system to teach them the basics above all else. It is time we turned this discussion from whether to give the basics prominence in primary schools to how we can do so most effectively and soonest so that every child can be fluent in the 3Rs and know how to make a decent costume.

1 comment:

oldandrew said...

I've just been having that argument here:

(Note the spelling in the thread title.)

The tragedy is that those writing seem to have no idea that there is any need to improve numeracy or literacy.