Saturday, September 09, 2006


Children in England will have to master their times tables by the age of 8, a year earlier than at present, under reforms of the way children are taught "the three Rs" in primary school. Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, said that teachers would also be expected to return to a back-to-basics method of teaching children to read, known as phonics.

The measures, which aim to speed pupils' progress in maths and English, also feature more teaching of mental arithmetic, tighter restrictions on pupils' use of calculators and a new focus on maths as a tool for solving problems encountered in everyday life. There will also be renewed emphasis on improving children's listening and speaking skills. The measures have been produced in response to ministerial concerns that primary pupils' attainment in maths and English, having increased steadily since the introduction of the literacy hour in 1998 and a numeracy framework in 1999, have hit a plateau.

Since 1998 the proportion of children reaching the expected standard, Level 4, has risen from 63 to 79 per cent in English and from 62 to 76 per cent in maths. However, this still leaves more than 20 per cent of children trailing. And figures published two weeks ago showed that the Government had missed its key targets for maths and English results in primary schools. "More needs to be done to address the one in five 11-year-olds still not reaching the standard required of their age in literacy," Mr Johnson said.

There is also a strong feeling among ministers that, in maths, targets are not exacting enough and should be brought forward by a year, to enable children to tackle more complex calculations by the age of 8 rather than 10.

The decision to focus the teaching of reading on synthetic phonics, which involves teaching children individual letter sounds before blending the sounds to form whole words, comes after recommendations early this year from Jim Rose, the former director of inspection at Ofsted. The emphasis now will be on ensuring that children gain basic word-recognition skills by the age of 7, before focusing more fully on comprehension. Children should be able to write their name by the age of 5, compose simple sentences using capital letters and full stops by 6, and write compound sentences and use question marks and commas to separate items on a list by 7. By 8 they should be able to use adjectives, verbs and nouns for precision and impact, and use exclamation and speech marks. At 9 they should be able to use commas to mark clauses and use the possessive apostrophe.

In maths, the emphasis will be on the quick recall of times tables to enable children to move on to more complex mental arithmetic with confidence.

The measures, which will be distributed to schools next month, will be accompanied by an investment of 230 million pounds of professional support for primary head teachers and subject heads in schools. Nick Gibb, the Conservative schools spokesman, welcomed putting synthetic phonics at the heart of teaching reading in the early years of primary school. But Sarah Teather, for the Liberal Democrats, called the reforms too prescriptive.


No comments: