Wednesday, 24 February 2010
The Scottish government's Scottish Survey of Achievement, published yesterday, showed while 75% of primary three children are achieving expected standards in reading and all are reaching writing levels, just 40% of second years could read and 33.3% write at the expected level for their age. A deplorable statistic no matter how you interpret it.
School inspectors have repeatedly highlighted concerns, blaming the earlier onset of adolescence, a lack of relevance in the curriculum and wasted time as primary pupils adjust to the different demands of secondary school.
Mike Russell, the education secretary, said "... One of the things that is beginning to show through in early primary is the success of the Curriculum for Excellence and we have to make sure that is delivered on time into secondary schools.
"We also need to get every secondary teacher to understand the responsibilities they have in their core role of developing literacy."
Mr Russell is missing a few points. Children between primary 4 and primary 7 are not being taught effectively. Isn't it time we stopped teaching these children sex education, healthy eating initiatives, enterprise education and many other subjects which are the domain of parents rather than teachers?
When I was at school back in the 50s I distinctly remember the day I wrote my first sentence 'joined up writing' for the first time without even a blot on the paper (we used pens with nibs and dipped them in inkwells). I was 7 years old. Part of our homework was learning how to write and my father would spread newspapers over the dining table while we sat writing until he was happy with the result. Everyone in my class could write and read well long before we had to move onto secondary school.
I realise I was fortunate having such dedicated teachers but a child who could not read and/or write well by the time they were 10 or so was a very small minority. Nearly 60 years later we have results which are so appalling that our educationalists do have a serious charge to answer. School inspectors have not been doing their job and that is to ensure each child learns the basics of education, nothing more and nothing less.
Mike Russell's comment regarding the need for teachers to understand their responsibilities would be laughable if it wasn't so serious. Don't they learn their responsibilities in the first year of a teacher training course these days? They used to do. It was drummed into every nervous first year that reading, writing and arithmetic were the core subjects of every primary school teacher. Young women used to spend hours practising on each other or, even better, practising on any young family member.
There is so much angst within the teaching profession about testing. Every Friday, throughout my primary education, we were tested in some subject. As a young child I wasn't aware it was testing, they were introduced as competitions to see who could write, count or read best. No prizes, just a nod of approval from teacher was enough to see a child float on air all morning.
Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association said that despite the decline in standards in S1 and S2, by third year pupils became highly motivated as they started qualifications that they recognised as being important to their future success.
"When pupils arrive in secondary they can be overwhelmed by the very different experience, but the focus is there when they start studying courses that lead to qualifications," she said.
There is part of the problem. Do we need to introduce primary children to qualifications so that they understand that any qualification enhances their education? Then perhaps they would not take 2 years to settle into secondary school.
My Friday tests were a form of qualification, although only one of us 'won' in each subject. As we began to realise these were tests the competition became fiercer. I can't remember anyone ever say they were a waste of time because we all knew we were at school to learn and not to waste time. Parents took a great responsibility in ensuring homework was completed. Unfortunately we've had years of governments which have removed parents' responsibilities, rendering them so reduced in confidence they feel unable to help their children with the basic subjects.
However, there may be some hope if Mike Russell does listen to those who were ignored years ago. He says he will give a fair hearing to every suggestion made by councils on alternative ways to control schools. A large part of any radical change should be to return confidence to parents who could then take their position back in society as being their children's carers.