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Question for teachers: your views on how primary education has changed

(25 Posts)
tiptabletops Sun 16-Mar-14 19:03:07

No, I'm not a journalist.

I'm curious.

My son's primary school experience seems so different from my own. So much more focussed on achieving very specific goals, and so much less free time and creativity, than I remember.

For example: One of the class newsletters for this term had a section on literacy saying, 'This term we will be focussing on connectives: And, But etc". At eight, I remember days of drawing pictures, and writing whatever I wanted, with minimal red pen and correction. I can't remember being taught anything so minutely specific. The idea that a half-term objective could be so painfully narrow is exhausting.

We never had homework and we were often let loose to gather information for projects: draw and label flowers in the garden, dig for ancient bits in the earth... a lot of sitting and doodling.

Granted, I didn't learn much of the sort of stuff that helps pass exams. And I also learned to read quite late (although that didn't stop me studying English at university). But, and this is significant, a lot of my friends at school have gone into the creative arts, and have done really well. I feel we were all encouraged to think for ourselves and to think that our thoughts were worth-while. By the time I got to university, those particular skills were really worthwhile, but I have friends who lecture in universities now who notice the lack of it in the new cohorts of students.

My school was quite an extreme example of this sort of progressive education. But I am dismayed when I see how target driven my son's work seems to be. His lovely class teacher showed me a piece of work he had marked against all the NC goals, and it must have taken him a good ten minutes to do that, everything highlighted carefully. I'm not sure how useful it all was to my son though (other than the teacher being able to prove she knew his level).

I'd really like to hear from teachers what it's like being a teacher now. I know the workload is huge, but I'd like to know whether you think this is a more effective way to teach children? And I'd also like to know what it's like for you, as a teacher. If this is too boring a question, but you can link me to some great articles on the subject, I'd also be grateful to see those.

steppingintothecanineunknown Sun 16-Mar-14 21:53:07

I do think your school was probably atypical. My dc's is much less into red pen marking and more into creative topic based learning than mine ever was.

That said I agree about the levelling and how depressing it is. I bet if you asked the teacher a general but how good is it type question, the poor guy might not have seen the wood for the trees.

MillyMollyMama Tue 18-Mar-14 15:17:05

Your primary education was not typical of mine, but more typical of my sisters who were educated at primary school in the late 60s and early 70s. My primary education was very literacy and numeracy based but the final two years were completely dominated by preparation for the 11+ so as well as reading, spelling, comprehension, writing, grammar, maths, problem solving, tables and mental maths we spent hours doing verbal reasoning questions. The afternoons were spent on art, sport or country dancing, music (singing), local history, hymn practice and a bit of nature. By spending so long on the 11+ preparation, we did no worthwhile history, geography, science or drama. We had a choir and I played the recorder which was a lunchtime activity. I did plenty of homework - yes, 11+ practice and a summer term project which could be anything we wanted. The teachers all went home at the same time as we did so definitely did less hours than now but no-one checked on our progress or their quality of teaching so there was impetus to improve, only individual professionalism.No such thing as an after school club and no trips out either.

When I got to the grammar school, our lack of a rounded education became starkly apparent! I found it very difficult to adjust to chemistry, physics and biology and the maths was unfathomable - SMP! We had spent all our time doing problems (questions with a narrative) in maths, what on earth were venn diagrams, equations and slide rules? It was woeful.

My sisters had a more laissez faire style of teaching at the same primary school and lots of time was spent studying the flora and fauna of the local water meadow, much to my Mother's disapproval. One of my sisters spent a lot of time helping the poor readers as a 10 year old teaching assistant. The liaison between the primary schools and the grammar school was still non- existent so everyone still went unprepared. The bright rose to the challenge and the others were overwhelmed. Very, very many of us underachieved and significant numbers from the grammar school never went to university at all. Both my sisters did go to university so you could say their primary education did not make any difference but my sister with 3 grade As at A level has no O level in maths which is almost unbelievable and now bars her from being a TA or a Teacher.

ThreeTomatoes Wed 19-Mar-14 07:50:06

I think this will answer your question. sad

I am so close myself to writing an email of complaint to dd's school about how year 6 and SATs have been handled. dd and her classmates are so stressed, have gone from loving school (& inspired) to being nearly in tears every morning on the way there. I'm reluctant to complain though, because I know it's not technically the school's fault and there's very little they can do about it. They became an academy this year, and essentially are told what they should be doing, the teachers have very little choice from what I've heard.

I'm hoping that as promised, after SATs school will be lots of fun so that they get a couple more positive months of school before they leave.

Nonie241419 Wed 19-Mar-14 11:11:43

I have to put pressure on children to achieve academically, when they are not ready to. I hate it, but all the powers that be care about is seeing progression through the levels for every child. They don't care that Little Billy is a summer born child, who is naturally physical and outdoorsy, and who finds the act of writing boring and frustrating. Instead of being able to nurture the strengths and gently build up the tolerance for the necessary literacy/numeracy skills of Little Billy, I have to constantly push for more writing, better punctuation, extended sentences. It makes me miserable, and it makes all the Little Billies I teach miserable too.
I do remember boring stuff at school when I was a child, but I also remember lots of unstructured exploration, in nature studies, team games and making things. We didn't have to demonstrate we were achieving a learning objective at the end of every task, or show clear progression in every lesson.

peppermintsticks Wed 19-Mar-14 19:25:59

These days every single child is supposed to make a recordable amount of progress in every lesson, or you're a failure as a teacher. Even for a subject like art.

shebird Wed 19-Mar-14 20:00:11

I am baffled at the idea that the teacher has to demonstrate that every child has made progress in a lesson. How can this be possible in all 30 children? It can take several lessons and much revisiting before some concepts are grasped. What if a child is tired or just not paying attention. OFSTED think children are robots where teachers just input data and press enter.

RiversideMum Wed 19-Mar-14 20:08:48

My primary school was much like yours OP. I remember doing maths from alpha-beta books, have no recollection of what we did in English. Lots of topic. Sometimes a whole class topic, sometimes pair work and others an individual topic. Don't remember any whole class teaching. Do remember continuous provision of art, woodwork, sewing, circuits etc. It was a long time ago, but I don't recall any behaviour issues happening at all in this setting. Shortly before I finished primary school, we moved and I went to a very formal desks-in-rows school. I was amazed at how much I knew having never done "science" or "geography" before.

As a teacher, I do spend a lot of time thinking about my own education and I do think things have gone too far the other way. There is far too much emphasis on passing exams or tests and not enough on encouraging a love of learning. Everyone is jumping through hoops, not for the good of the children, but because they are terrified of Ofsted. My HT says he cannot see any improvement to education since the NC in the 80s, but because he's worried about getting sacked, he is playing the game yo a bizarre degree. Just loads of extra admin for everyone that is not improving teaching. Children are not independent learners any more. In my school, I see it as soon as the children move out of early years.

shebird Wed 19-Mar-14 20:25:19

Good article Three

peppermintsticks Wed 19-Mar-14 20:27:10

It's not just Ofsted it's senior managers and county advisers and governors and parents and everyone who dances to the data tune. Everyone wants to see progress progress progress all the time, in every lesson, or the teacher is deemed to be failing.

How many parents obsess over whether a school is good or outstanding without really knowing what boxes have to be ticked to make a school "Good"? Not many people are willing to stand up against the current system.

shebird Wed 19-Mar-14 21:02:49

I was educated in the 80's but not in this country. The main emphasis in primary was on the core skills reading, writing and maths. We had homework every day including reading, spellings, maths from that reflected what we had been learning at school. There was plenty time to practice and revisit subjects as the teacher felt the need. We rarely did group work and were expected to work independently and think for ourselves but we were encouraged to discuss and share our work and ideas with the class.

Our teachers were free to be professionals and we were happy to learn without learning objectives or targets. I was never aware of being monitored or plotted on a flight path. The main aim was that we would leave primary well equipped and independent to continue our learning in secondary.

zirca Fri 21-Mar-14 12:47:40

Ten years ago, SATs were important to the school, but the children worked towards them steadily throughout their school years, and the extra effort required in Y6 was mostly careful teaching and a bit of maths boostering by a competent TA to fill in some gaps. The rest of the curriculum was pretty relaxed - teachers got to have fun with each subject, making it entertaining, planning things the children would be interested in etc. The morning was always a time to work hard, but the afternoon was relaxing, fun and full of creative learning. That didn't change in Y6. There was time to spend with children who needed emotional support at lunch/break times, and SO much less paperwork. You could make a real difference in each class, not just to the children's learning, but to the lives of those who needed a bit of extra support emotionally or behaviourally. Each class was seen as individual, and treated accordingly.

Now, in a school with a mixed intake that isn't already Outstanding, a lot of that has changed. Paperwork is everything, six weeks a year of teaching are lost to assessment, and further time is lost to 'enrichment days' of varying types. The timetable is so packed, that there's no time to dwell on a tricky or particularly interesting topic, and there is less scope to plan something 'different'. Everything has to be done the same way, throughout the school, even if it doesn't fit a particular class, and some of those things take a lot of time. You can't be 'you' as a teacher anymore, you have to be part of the factory model, churning out regulation lessons, to regulation children, in the regulation results factory. However amazing your headteacher is, you're stuck in this model because Ofsted, and the LEA, want it.

mammadiggingdeep Sat 22-Mar-14 12:58:38

I'm a senior leader in a school in Inner London.

We had a management meeting this week and on the agenda was the phonics test of Year 1, setting targets in reception children all the way through until year 6 (yes really) etc etc.

I walked home from work depressed, realising that it isn't the profession for me anymore.

I'll march in London on Wednesdays strike day. I'm going to fight for all the children whose childhood is being ruined by this governments idea of what education is.

sad

shebird Sat 22-Mar-14 16:54:21

Can anyone tell me if education has actually improved as a
result of all the planning and testing that teachers have to do these days? Is there any evidence to suggest current methods of teaching are working better than previous methods. All I hear from employers is that young people are less equipped than ever before for the workplace and universities are having to coach students in basic skills. Surely that tells us that there is something seriously wrong.

Lizziewarmington Sat 22-Mar-14 18:41:49

Good schools are very creative and do lots of art, PE and music and topic based learning and as part of that the children become numerate and literate. However children don't seem to have the work ethic that they used to and are often too tired to engage either from late nights, computer games, too much TV or just as bad to many after school activities. They have sensory overload going from piano, to karate on one night then drama to rugby on another. Poor children they can't make the most of school.

mammadiggingdeep Sun 23-Mar-14 10:02:25

Lizzie- it's very very hard for schools to keep being creative! The topic based approach is harder and harder to do, especially with the curriculum 2014.
sad

lapumpkin Sun 23-Mar-14 11:22:27

As parents, what role to we have in all of this? As pepper says… we look at OFSTED reports, want good SATs results from a school, compare the levels achieved by different schools etc.

How do we help our children not to get sucked in/ feel pressurised/ stressed by this all? And how do we help the schools they are part of?

MilkRunningOutAgain Sun 23-Mar-14 19:48:48

I went to primary in the early / mid 70s. Creative it wasn't, we did loads of basic sums out of a text book, simply working through at your own pace and asking for help if you needed it, did English out of a text book too that required you to read a long passage ( I' m remembering the yr 6 textbook, or yr 4 juniors as it was then) , answer comprehension questions on it, do loads of exercises ( of the fill in the missing word , write a sentence with the following words in it, add the speech marks to text sort ) and write a story or poem or letter or report, etc, on a given topic, usually related to the comprehension, all this every week. But work was marked, the teacher, all on her own in a class of 33 if I remember correctly, did talk to us and explain things and progress was made, good discipline too. Frankly I covered more ground than my yr 6 DS has done, using far fewer resources. History and geography were taught to the whole class in the afternoons, and I remember doing lots of local history, I loved that. The teacher let me go on my own to the local library as well, as I'd finished the school's rather small supply of books, imagine that in these health and safety times, it was only 2 minutes walk away but nontheless.

mrz Sun 23-Mar-14 19:56:18

I think the new curriculum will provide lots of freedom to be creative if schools look at it objectively.

ThreeTomatoes Sun 23-Mar-14 21:16:36

Wow milk, i was at primary in the early-mid 80s and I can't remember much at all about what we did/learnt!! I mainly remember the extra-curricular stuff - netball team, cricket, sewing and arts & crafts, gardening, assemblies, marbles in the playground,sports day. I remember writing a story once though about our class at home and the teacher reading it out to the class. But then, I don't remember a huge amount about lessons at secondary either! blush

funnyfarms Sun 23-Mar-14 22:59:40

mrz - how do you think the new curriculum will enable this? what constraints will be lifted, do you think?

mrz Mon 24-Mar-14 06:32:52

The new curriculum gives a basic content that must be taught but doesn't impose how it must be taught so that is up to the teacher/school.

mammadiggingdeep Mon 24-Mar-14 06:40:17

I'm thinking that the age expectations at each year group are higher, meaning even more rigour and faster pave needed. Also much more fact based- on our school
We're moving away from using the IPC back to discrete subjects. Of course all good schools and good teachers will continue to bring as much creativity as possible but I do believe it'll be harder.

HolidayCriminal Mon 24-Mar-14 10:21:37

The styles of teaching seems pretty similar (1970s California). We didn't have stated targets, but we had very hierarchical grading system.
We did PE almost daily, though there wasn't as much variety as DC get (and no such thing as sports days or school teams/competitions).

DC do a lot more science than I ever remember, and the DT, wow!
Obviously RE is a huge difference, too.

Secondary is quite different from my experience. Can't begin to list it all.

moldingsunbeams Mon 24-Mar-14 10:30:10

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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