SCHOOL STANDARDS: Week of Education Setbacks Ends with Damning Report on English Teaching

Article excerpt

DAMNING REPORTS by a government watchdog identified serious failings in teaching at primary and secondary schools yesterday, rounding off an embarrassing week for Ruth Kelly, the new Secretary of State for Education.

In the fourth blow to Tony Blair's record on a key election issue in four days, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said English lessons had deterred pupils from reading whole books while history teachers ignored Britain and concentrated on Adolf Hitler.

The watchdog also said, in reports on individual subjects, that there were too few maths teachers, that there was a squeeze on science for young children and that music teaching was too often a "lottery".

But the main source of the QCA's concern was its assessment of what had gone wrong in teaching English, and, particularly, in the nurturing of reading. Children now lacked the "stamina" to read whole books because of a drive to use only short extracts in English lessons, the watchdog said.

And an increasing "culture of dependence" had damaged pupils' ability to write creatively because highly structured classroom exercises had left them reliant on "pre-set structures and formats". When children did read books together as a class, they were often forced to study the same texts in consecutive years because of the very limited choice of books offered in schools.

Book such as The Iron Man, the children's classic by the late poet laureate Ted Hughes could be studied by children for three school years between the ages of nine and 11. Children in their final year of primary school tended to read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and Anne Frank's Diary. But they were often expected to study them again during their first three years of secondary school.

The report warned: "A number of books were read across several years. This raises concerns about progression in reading both within and between key stages. At GCSE and A-level, the set texts have changed little in the last few years and there is a limited range of texts studied for examinations."

Maths lessons were being hampered by the shortage of well- qualified maths teachers in secondary schools. One in five secondary school maths teachers now lacked a good maths qualification, the QCA found.

There was also "widespread disquiet" over the narrowing of history teaching and the "Hitlerisation" of GCSE and A-level courses. …