Webchat with Sir Jim Rose
Sir Jim, who led the independent review of the primary curriculum, was our guest on Tues 2 February, 2010. This is an edited transcript of the live webchat.
Sir Jim was formerly Her Majesty's Inspector and Director of Inspection for Ofsted. He retired in 1999 and since has acted as a consultant to the DFES on nursery and primary education. He has led several independent reviews, including early reading, the primary curriculum, and teaching and dyslexia.
Primary curriculum review | Summer-born babies | Teaching literacy | Enquiry-based learning | ICT | PE/sport | Teaching languages | Evaluating schools | Boys' development | Gifted and talented | Home vs school education | Dyslexia | Dyspraxia | Bullying
JimRose: Hello everyone, thank you for all of your questions. I am delighted to have the opportunity to answer as many as I can! Prior to going live I've had the opportunity to read some of the posts. A number of them relate to issues of special educational needs, which I may not be able to answer during the live period. I will endeavour to do so as soon as possible. I note that the issue of school starting age is also a hot topic. Hopefully, I will have covered most of these points, but if there are any outstanding ones I will pick them up later.
theboobmeister: The Cambridge Review set up by the Government in 2006 has been the biggest and most widely-supported review of primary education in a generation, and has come up with recommendations which are strongly supported by the teaching profession and many parents, for example on the right starting age for formal schooling and on radically reshaping our outdated and inflexible curriculum.
Why was it felt that we needed another review of primary education in competition with the Cambridge Review, and what exactly does your study bring to the table?
JimRose: Thanks for your question about the Cambridge Primary Review. I was asked about this a great deal during my Review. The Cambridge Review was not set up by the government, it was a review led by Professor Robin Alexander of the University of Cambridge and funded by the Esmee Fairburn Foundation. Robin and I are former colleagues from way back.
Robin's was a wide-ranging review which looked at the whole of primary education. I was asked by the government to review the primary curriculum and set out the detail of what all children should be taught at primary school from September 2011. As part of this I was asked to consider particular concerns around summer-born children.
I met Robin during my review and we agree on many points in relation to the primary curriculum. On school starting age, we both agree that what is most important is not whether children should start school at five or six, but making sure that whenever they do, they get a high-quality and suitable experience no matter what their age.
Rather than having a cliff edge, at any age children need a gradual transition from informal or play-based learning to formal education. My proposals for the primary curriculum do that. The new curriculum is organised around six broad areas of learning, similar to the Early Years Foundation Stage and provides for more less formal, more play-based learning in Years 1 and 2.
PixieOnaleaf: Why is it that there is so little creativity in the primary curriculum? I withdrew my daughter from state education when she was 8 because I think that she needs skills other than writing reports in life. There seemed to be little space for writing stories or doing any of the imaginative things which I grew up doing. Why does the English curriculum especially have to be so dry?
JimRose: I am sorry that was your experience. I think that was possibly more a reflection of the school's approach rather than what the primary curriculum requires. The existing primary curriculum for English contains many opportunities for story telling, role play, drama and literature covering a wide range of fiction and poetry. I certainly saw fantastic examples of this happening in schools I visited.
Creativity should, of course, run through the whole curriculum – it is just as important to be creative in maths as in English. I hope that the proposals I have put forward to make the primary curriculum more manageable for schools will allow them to be even more creative in order to make the most of the unrivalled zest for learning children have in their primary years.
schneebly: I am a mother and student teacher. I have been very interested to read your recommendations. I am delighted that the structure of the new curriculum is much less presciptive and will allow for greater flexibility and creativity. I am specialising in PSHCE and it looks from the structure of the new curriculum that there will be a lot more 'space' for ongoing PSHCE - am I correct? Hopefully my specialism will help me get a job when I graduate in light of the new curriculum.
JimRose: Personal development including all aspects of Personal, Social, Health Education (PSHE) should now be on a much firmer and more manageable footing in primary schools, so I am sure your specialism will be well regarded. I hope you enjoy your teaching career – wise choice!
LoveBeingAMummy: If you had three wishes and could change things instantly, which three things would you change and how?
JimRose: Hello LoveBeingAMummy, I am thinking of stealing your great title and becoming LoveBeingAGrandad. Interesting – this is a question I often ask of primary headteachers and usually receive answers to do with: reducing the amount of testing (SATs); dropping publicly reported school league tables; making an over-demanding National Curriculum less prescriptive, and giving more time for schools to consolidate existing initiatives before introducing additional ones.
All of these things are now at the forefront of professional and public debate and there is no doubt that some significant changes are being made by policy makers while holding to that which is good.
I have never put much faith in 'quick fixes' but I hope the recommendations of the reviews on reading, dyslexia and the primary curriculum with which I have been involved will contribute significantly, in the short and longer term, to children's education and well-being.
My wish would be for all primary schools to be as good as those at the leading edge (of which we have many that are 'world class'). Since we are constantly told that the 'the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers', how we fulfil that wish, must mean investing in securing and assuring top quality teaching.
ionelacd: I live in the UK and I am an Early Years Educator, but I was born and educated in Eastern Europe where I started literacy and numeracy at seven and went to primary school only four hours a day. The system in the Uk is damaging the children. The parents should do something about it. The teachers or educators cannot change anything because they have to follow government guidelines otherwise they will lose their jobs.
JimRose: The Review (chapter 6) looked at international comparisons of primary education. Not surprisingly, the picture was very mixed. Many countries that claimed to start primary school earlier seemed to be offering much that is contained in our Early Years Foundation Stage, including reception classes, as part of their provision for pre-school education.
cleanandclothed: I would like to add my plea for a discussion about summer-born children, particularly those born prematurely, being able to start reception a year later than 'normal'. I cannot understand any objections to this.
Could you perhaps try to articulate them if you have any?
JimRose: I must declare an interest in this question because I have a five-year-old, August-born grand-daughter who was also premature. We took the decision to start her in the Reception class in the September following her fourth birthday.
We had considerable discussion with the school and particularly the reception class teacher. The outcome has been a success story, she would protest strongly if she could not go to school. This owes much to the great expertise of the reception teacher and the other adults who work with her class.
jackstarbright: I thought I'd try to give a more general explanation for the frustration felt by some Mumsnetters regarding the handling the 'summer-born child' inequality issue in your report last year. As an input to your report, you commissioned the IFS to investigate the relative age disadvantage of being a 'summer-born' child in the English education system.
In its press release the IFS states: "Children born later in the school year perform significantly worse in exams than those born earlier in the school year, even up to GCSE level. Policy changes are needed if this unfair disadvantage is not to damage the chances of summer-born children."
One of the IFS conclusions (6.3) is:
"...the negative effects associated with receiving fewer terms of schooling are generally small, and often do not persist beyond Key Stage 1. This suggests that what is driving the August birth penalty is not differences in admissions policies."
However, the only recommendation in your report explicitly regarding the summer-born issue is: Recommendation 14 - (i): "The preferred pattern of entry to reception classes should be the September immediately following a child’s fourth birthday."
My question (yes I do have one) is: is this summary fair and if not, what is being done to actually address the significant 'relative age inequality' in our primary schools? We have lots of ideas ourselves if you are interested!
JimRose: The important principle is to provide as much flexibility as possible so that children get the degree of support and stimulation that they need to make a good start.
There is considerably more flexibility and choice in what is proposed than many seem to think. Looking at this on a case-by-case basis seems to me to be the best way to proceed. I shall be making the case for deferral in response to an earlier post shortly.
backtolingle: Sir Jim, it was my idea to invite you so please do answer my question about year-deferral for summer-borns. I know that many education experts have urged you without success to change your mind on the summer-born deferral issue.
Will you at least agree that for some summer-born children whose delays are in the area of social communication skills, it is critical that parents should be able to follow professional advice to change the child's peer group at an early age as part of the early intervention programme?
When my August-born son's language and social communication struggles became painfully evident upon starting state school nursery at 3, we sought advice from:
1. The school's headteacher
2. The nursery manager
3. Bradford LEA's specialist Special Needs support coordinator
4. An NHS specialist senior speech therapist
5. An NHS consultant paediatrician
All of them - ALL of them - urged us to take advantage of Bradford's policy allowing us, as of right - to repeat his nursery year and start reception at 5 years old, with his education to be offset throughout his school career. None of them - NONE of them, thought that a "play-based curriculum" in reception would be better for him. He needed to practice his immature social skills with a peer group whose social skills more closely matched his own. No curriculum change could achieve that.
My son has blossomed in his 'repeat' nursery year. From being in a position 12 months ago where Bradford LEA were urging us to seek a Statement as soon as possible, we are now in a position where his language and social skills are peer appropriate, and because he is with the right peers, his progress is very fast. His life-chances have been transformed by this simplest and cheapest of "interventions" in the right setting, and the taxpayer's money spent on the extra nursery year has been saved many times over because he will not now need one-to-one support when he starts reception at five years old in September.
However, because of your report, Bradford has now reversed its policy on summer-born deferral. Other children like mine won't get this chance in life. Unless, that is, you are willing to recognise that there are exceptions to every rule, and that there are some special children for whom year-deferral is a critical intervention. I await your response.
JimRose: It is very important to be clear about what the recommendation 14 actually says, which is that: "The preferred pattern of entry to reception classes should be the September immediately following a child's fourth birthday. However, this should be subject to well-informed discussion with parents, taking into account their views of a child's maturity and readiness to enter reception class. Arrangements should be such as to make entry to reception class an exciting and enjoyable experience for all children, with opportunities for flexible arrangements such as a period of part-time attendance if judged appropriate."
The intention is to provide as much flexibility as possible to achieve the best outcomes for children. Your son has clearly thrived as a result of your decision. The recommendation recognises that there are exceptions as you suggest.
In the case of Bradford's policy, there is nothing to stop the local authority from allowing children to start their reception year at age five. And every LA has a duty to provide places for all children. The Early Years Foundation Stage Profile is an evidence-based design, which enables teachers and practitioners to plan and assess children's progress up to the age of five. It recognises that all children develop at different rates and uses observational assessment by practitioners to monitor their progress.
The changes in the Primary Curriculum and guidance being produced on transition will help ensure a smoother experience for children and a sharing of information between the two stages will ensure each child is given the support they need. I still think we can achieve this through play because, as evidence shows, that's how children learn best.
backtolingle: "There is nothing to stop the LA from allowing children to start their reception year at age five." That calls for a glass of wine.
FabIsGoingToBeFabIn2010: Who decides when the children will go full time or not? At my school the younger children do mornings only from Sept-Jan and in my experience it is too long. My children found it a big shock as they thought school was just mornings, like play school.
JimRose: The argument that admitting four year olds to primary schools 'may be doing them more harm than good' only holds true if primary schools fail to recognise and provide for the full range of educational and welfare needs of the younger children.
Nowadays, the great majority of primary schools recognise this truth and work hard to make sure that their Reception year classes are well-attuned to meeting the needs of four and five year olds. This includes giving serious attention to learning through play and understanding how different forms of play benefit young children's physical, intellectual, social and emotional development.
Primary schools, in general, are also much better informed than, say, a decade ago about the risks of changing too abruptly from play-based learning to accommodate the demands of the National Curriculum as children move from their Reception class to Year One.
In some schools, however, this is undoubtedly an issue that calls for greater vigilance and action to get the balance right between play-based learning and direct teaching – both have a positive and complementary role to play in the education of five and six year olds.
As one headteacher said: "These children can find 'wall–to-wall play all day' just as unrewarding as long periods of sitting down being told things." The best schools strike the right balance.
allchildrenreading: There is a massive amount of evidence that learning to read is not difficult when schools rigorously follow the advice you gave in your Early Reading Review of 2006. Some children inevitably need more time to understand our written code as they do with any skill. If the alphabetic code is taught properly it is fun and good teaching by teachers who are truly trained allows so much freedom and time for children to develop, flourish and explore the world. Surely it's the muddled initiatives that have created difficulties?
An All-Party House of Commons select committee last month published its findings into Early Literacy Interventions. The logic of its conclusions would save billions over a decade. Why doesn't the DCSF respond?
JimRose: As you might expect, I am pleased to see your endorsement of the Early Reading Review! We would do well to continue to develop a nationwide response based on what is now firm ground on the teaching and learning of reading and writing incorporated in the recommendations of that review. As far as I know, the government is preparing a response to last month's select committee report into early literacy interventions.
Bonsoir: Why is there so much emphasis on early reading in the UK? I live in France where children start to learn to read in the calendar year in which they turn six ie between the ages of six years and eight months, and five years and nine months - albeit having done plenty of preparation in anticipation of learning to read. Most children here seem to learn to read very quickly and everyone is a lot stressed/competitive about the acquisition of reading than in the UK. Couldn't the UK relax a bit on the reading front?
JimRose: Most English-speaking countries seem to have gone through a period of 'hot debate' about the teaching of reading, especially about the teaching of phonics, and when to start teaching children to read. English is not as phonetically regular as other alphabetic languages, such as French, Swedish or Spanish so our children generally have to learn more variations in spelling (eg rain, rein, reign) than their counterparts in other countries.
Nevertheless, English is sufficiently regular to make it crucially important for children to learn how the alphabet works for reading and writing (decoding and encoding text) through high-quality phonics teaching.
Although phonics is essential, it is not of itself sufficient for children to become skilled readers and achieve the main goal of reading, which is to understand what they read.
The key to success lies in your insightful comment about the importance of giving children 'plenty of preparation in anticipation of learning to read'. We know that reading feeds off speaking and listening. The same applies to writing – if they can't say it they can't write it. So as part of preparing children for reading, parents and teachers should do all they can to make sure children are engaged, often, in deeply pleasurable experience related to reading – even babies show delight in good picture books and hearing the rhythm of spoken words before they can understand them.
We need to make sure children have every opportunity to enlarge and enrich their spoken vocabulary as a communication skill in its own right as well as a key ingredient of learning to read and write.
Where children receive plenty of these language-rich early experiences they become capable of starting aspects of phonic work by around the age of five they begin to link letters and sounds, write their names and so forth. We should certainly not put undue pressure on young children to do these things but nor should we hold them back if they have developed a healthy appetite to read and write.
This is why the Reading Review recommended decisions about starting on reading should be subject to principled professional judgments about children's developing abilities,
QandA: Do you think the over-emphasis on structured phonics sessions in schools starting from EYFS, stifles children's enjoyment of reading and would it be better to just start in Y2 once all children were ready and able to learn without 3 years of pushing children before many are ready?
JimRose: As with other things it is important, in the case of phonics, to distinguish between good and poor quality teaching. Good teaching of effective reading programmes does not place an 'over-emphasis on structured phonics sessions in schools' and '3 years of pushing children before many are ready'. Once started, however, phonic work should be structured to make sure children receive systematic teaching on a regular basis so that they acquire a firm grasp of phonic skills. Learning any skill calls for regular practice.
In the past, phonics was associated with a Dickensian image of over-didactic, 'Gradgrind'-style teaching. Anyone observing high-quality phonic work in a balanced reading programme nowadays would be quickly disabused of that image. The emphasis is upon learning through multi-sensory, active experiences which children invariably enjoy.
In recent years there has been a huge improvement in the quality of materials for reading, and in teaching expertise, including phonics. Because progress in these circumstances is often rapid, children's capability and confidence are boosted and they rightly become very proud of their achievements.
Remember – from the standpoint of children phonic teaching and learning are time-limited processes; once they have learned to read they can read to learn for the rest of their lives.
Hassled: Can I ask what you think about enquiry-based learning in primary schools? Do you think it is the most effective way to deliver the curriculum?
JimRose: What we are striving for is a National Curriculum through which primary children learn worthwhile knowledge, skills and understanding. Good teaching recognises the need for a range of approaches to learning, one of which should certainly be through enquiry and practical investigation. There is also a need for children to learn through direct teaching, including rote learning. Good teaching draws upon more than one approach.
KMJ: Sir Jim, my son (seven) is most engaged at school when he is outside. Why don't schools make more use of their outside space as a learning environment? Surely not health and safety nonsense keeping them indoors? It was fine when he was in reception class and even Year 1, but since then getting outside is almost a novelty.
JimRose: Your son sounds very much like my grandson (eight) who would much rather be out and about actively investigating things than indoors sitting down and being told things. Many primary schools have taken steps to make their outdoor space more learning centred. For example, school grounds often have wild-life study areas, gardening plots and adventurous resources for physical activity. There are some very imaginative designs for transforming limited outdoor space in urban schools.
Like you, I hope that schools will continue to look for ways to develop opportunities for learning outdoors to support and extend learning in school. It is worth mentioning that national bodies such as the National Trust and the Royal Horticultural Society are keenly interested in supporting primary schools in these respects.
Zazizoma: Your report states: "Personal development together with literacy, numeracy and ICT constitute the essentials for learning and life." Would you please explain your reasoning and the evidence behind including ICT as a subject on par with literacy and numeracy?
JimRose: Thanks for your questions on ICT. Making sure that children have the necessary ICT skills should not be at the expense of other forms of communication. I cannot imagine any time in the near future when reading and writing and speaking and listening will not be of central importance. However, I have also tried to recognise the increasing importance of ICT and technology in children's lives. ICT also has the ability to strengthen development of literacy and numeracy, not least by enlivening the way it is taught.
Another key concern to me is the fact that not all children will have equal access to ICT outside of school. I think it crucial that we avoid raising a population divided between ICT 'haves' and 'have nots'.
cissycharlton: My son's school was rated as outstanding. I feel that much is deemed irrelevent in the pursuit of good academic results; to use the vernacular it is a bit of a sausage factory. As the mother of boys I strongly believe that there should be far more emphasis on PE and physical activity in general.
My son's school often relegate PE to half an hour of skipping around a gym at the behest of a rather disinterested class teacher. Do you agree that a school should only be able to score as 'outstanding' if their PE lessons are of a sufficient standard.
JimRose: Speaking as someone who was an avid rugby player even after the age of 40 and still retains a routine of jogging at an ever-decreasing pace, I am fully convinced that an active sports and physical development programme should be part of a high-quality curriculum and schools should be responsible for promoting this.
I would be very surprised if Ofsted ignored the importance of sport in schools, especially given the expectation that children will have 5 hours of physical activity each week. I have to say that I've seen many very good PE and sport lessons taught by female teachers.
caramelwaffle: I would very much like to see other languages being taught in state primary schools, across the board, as part of the curriculum. Is this feasible in the near future?
JimRose: A modern foreign language will become compulsory from Year 3 onwards from September 2011. Schools can choose which language or languages to offer. At the moment, just over 90% of primary schools provide some form of language learning, but from next year it will be part of the primary National Curriculum for the first time.
mateykatie: In the broadest sense, how should the performance of primary schools be evaluated, and what needs to change to make evaluations more meaningful? Also, can you please answer the questions above about why inspections aren't random?
JimRose: I'm not able to speak for Ofsted, but I know that they are in close contact with DCSF. For example, in the recent review of school assessment they were represented on the expert group appointed by the Secretary of State. This group recommended a wide range evaluations, including a balanced report card on the school as a whole.
sylar: Do you think there is any argument for boys and girls being taught separately for part of the day? There is evidence that boys and girls learn in very different ways and respond to different forms of teaching.
JimRose: While I do not think there is a hard-and-fast case for teaching boys and girls separately, we need to recognise that boys' performance in some important respects often lags behind that of girls. At primary level this can generally be mitigated by effective group work and one-to-one teaching. This is something however that should be for the professional judgment of the school.
The DCSF are also producing guidance on children's early writing that will have a specific section for practitioners on supporting boys' development.
BelleDeChocolateFluffyBun: My son is a bright 10 year old. Why is it impossible for me to find a school that will challenge him? Why do schools think it's OK to allow him to sit and do nothing because he's finished his work in 10 minutes and has nothing to do? No matter how many times I talk to them it achieves nothing.
He grasps new concepts immediately, so no matter what he's given he can do it really quickly and has nothing to do whilst he's waiting for the rest of the class to catch up with him. In one school he was told off for asking if he could read rather then do nothing, now he sits and daydreams.
In one school I was told that he brings this on himself because of how he speaks to people (imagine Sherlock Holmes). What do I do with him? He's a very caring, supportive child and he is being so badly let down by both the state and the private sector as there are very few places that can support a very bright child.
JimRose: The government has appointed John Stannard as the champion for gifted and talented children. My understanding is that John is working closely with local authorities and other partners to promote challenging programmes for children like your son. I can ask John to post what is the state of play in this area. However, the curriculum review does look to schools to structure the areas of learning so that all children, irrespective of their background and ability, are sufficiently challenged to achieve their potential.
lazylion: My little boy is nearly five, I'm trying to decide whether to send him to school or to home educate him. My question for Sir Jim is, why should I send him to school?
JimRose: Among the many reasons why you might decide to send your son to a good local school is the fact that one of the most motivating factors for children is to learn with other children. Indeed, many important aspects of social, emotional and intellectual development can only be advanced through interaction with others. Perhaps the most obvious is the development of speaking, listening and early literacy skills.
dysgran: Where are the dyslexia-friendly local authorities? Are all schools in those authorities dyslexia friendly? Why are so many schools still dyslexia unfriendly?
JimRose: I hope the Dyslexia Review will prompt a system-wide approach so that all local authorities and schools become 'dyslexia friendly'. We must move on from the sterile debate about whether dyslexia exists or not and focus on how best to help children with dyslexic and related learning difficulties.
I was delighted that government saw fit to respond to the Review by making £10 million immediately available for the training of 4,000 specialists and that training is now getting underway. These things take time but I am optimistic that what is being done will lead to real and lasting improvements on this front eg through the Dyslexia / SpLD Trust. (See firstname.lastname@example.org )
gigglewitch: Why isn't there the facility to have classroom support (via statementing process if necessary) for severely dyslexic KS2 children? We're in a relatively dyslexia friendly area, grade 1 school, but still no help. How on earth are recommendations to be put into practice if this is the case?
JimRose: The Dyslexia Review explores the kinds of support, including classroom support that should be, or become available. It makes recommendations, for example, about the importance of early identification and sustaining support for children.
This reflects the 1996 Education Act which requires schools and local authorities to have regard for the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice that includes dyslexia. The proposals are extensive and too detailed to be covered here, but the review can be viewed at www.teachernet.gov.uk/publications (search reference: DCSF-00659-2009).
Nessarose: I would like to know why at one school I was told that my DS1 had not got dyslexia, then when we changed schools due to bullying problems, the school he now attends has confirmed he does suffer from it? The old school did not even test him, they just said he was slow.
JimRose: This is why the Dyslexia Review calls for early identification and a well prepared plan so that children with different degrees of dyslexia and learning difficulties can be fully supported. All of this should be greatly helped by the additional training for specialist teachers which is now in the pipeline.
tatt: Why do schools not recognise dyspraxia in the more able child? They don't need much support just some advice. However studying how some children manage to learn despite dyspraxia might help those who don't.
JimRose: I hope provision for this will benefit from the recommendations of the Dyslexia Review. The review discusses motor coordination under 'co-occurring difficulties', one of which is dyspraxia. You may find the Dyspraxia Foundation's classroom guidelines helpful in discussing this with your school.
tatt: Why did Ofsted support a lack of discipline in schools? Why do bullies get help but not their victims? How can Ofsted say a school doesn't have a problem with bullying when parents are taking their children away because the school has a problem and isn't dealing with it.
JimRose: Your 'main' question is really for Ofsted but I should be astonished if Ofsted and government guidance on bullying did other than strongly support school discipline and anti-bullying policies.
dilbertina: Ahh, probably not the Jim Rose that did the circus sideshow thing then info here (or is it?!). I stood on him whilst he lay on a load of broken glass whilst at university (at his request I hasten to add.) And I weighed less then - probably why I was picked when my mates kindly volunteered me. Anyway, if same one my question is: "Did it not hurt?"!
JimRose: Sadly, I am not that Jim Rose – I just wonder what you were studying at university to enjoy such sport - I obviously missed out!
Thanks for very interesting questions, I am sorry that we have to finish the session now. I'll reflect on those questions that time did not allow me to cover and hopefully respond at a later date.
Last updated: almost 2 years ago