Specialists – teaching the subject or the child?

The Cambridge Primary Review, the first comprehensive report on primary education since Plowden in 1967 challenges a lot of the prevailing assumptions about what schools should be delivering.

The report makes a number of recommendations. One that was discussed today was the use of specialist teachers in primary schools.

On the one hand we all want our children to have the very best learning experience possible, from the right people. On the other, a central tenet of primary school is  pastoral support and a more holistic education than other sectors are able to provide, do we lose this by adopting a more specialist approach where children will have a number of teachers?   If we adopt specialist teaching does it mean those vital relationships and understandings of individual children and their needs will be harder to achieve.   How would the use of a range of specialist teachers impact on consistency across the school?

Many teachers in primary will tell you they chose this route as they wanted to teach the whole curriculum to children, that they want to see children’s development in it’s entirety. There’s an often used expression that secondary school teachers teach subjects and primary school teachers teach the child! The report suggests in this day and age we should consider who is best to deliver the most effective learning experience to children. It states that in the past it has always been the case, particularly in music and PE, that somebody might be better placed to deliver these subjects and that schools should look to exploit such specialists.   Since the introduction of PPA time, any schools have looked at these two areas as an opportunity to try a different approach, using coaches and musicians to provide the statutory cover for staff.

Ultimately the review asks us to question assumptions and challenge ourselves as school leaders to review our staffing structures to ensure children have the best learning experiences possible. Our we accessing all expertise in school? Sometimes a simple survey of staff strengths and specialisms can unearth a bed of untapped talent. I have found this recently with languages.

As @andrewme tweeted recently, its about a balance of the two: retaining the pastoral support while embracing the expertise of those best suited to deliver key curriculum areas.   The Cambridge Review asks us to look at our own practice and ask ourselves questions.   A great vehicle for change both at school level and (hopefully) and nationally.


About smichael920

Headteacher of a large primary school in North West England. Helping me to blur the distinction between work and home, I am also father of five, covering most phases of education thus giving me the lowdown from within and without. Education is about enjoying today and preparing for tomorrow. This can't be done using the tools of the past. View all posts by smichael920

5 responses to “Specialists – teaching the subject or the child?

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