Why do primary schools not employ specialists?
Primary teachers are General Practitioners but what children (and fellow staff) need are experts to consult and go to who are mad keen on their subjects and can answer questions, challenge and inspire.
We don’t expect secondary teachers to teach the whole curriculum but we seem quite happy to let primary teachers carry the burden, leading to a fundamental failure in teaching key areas of the curriculum.
La La Land
A primary teacher competent throughout the primary curriculum is a very rare breed and when it comes to ‘subject knowledge and understanding’, there are so many instances teaching is just not up to scratch.
Switching from one curriculum area to another and expecting top-notch teaching, learning and assessment in every subject is La La land teaching.
The practicality of a KS2 teacher having good enough knowledge of ten subjects (as well as cross-curricular themes), was given prominence by Robin Alexander, Jim Rose and Chris Woodhead in their so-called “three wise men report”.
Whilst there have been some shifts towards more specialist teaching, little has changed and many primary practitioners are “doing the lot”.
Most of the time you will find colleagues having to “wing it” and pretend they know what they are talking about when in fact they don’t. I have worked with countless teachers who pretend to a greater level of competence and knowledge than they know to be the case.
Adopting this persona then results in a curious self-deception where they actually start to think they know more than they do and then make others believe it. It’s not unusual to teach something that you only read about the day before.
A very significant chunk of the workload problem for primary teachers is the fact that being the Jack and Jill of all trades puts an enormous pressure on the time taken to learn what it is we need to teach. The breadth and depth of learning required to successfully teach the curriculum suite of subjects is out of reach.
Too many primary teachers are given the post of a subject leader responsible for coordinating a curriculum area without being a specialist or having the relevant experience to do the job.
I know a number of maths subject leaders who end up being a maths coordinator because of school tectonics. Many have never been interviewed for the job but are part of a school where there are numerous cabinet reshuffles owing to staff leaving and illnesses or senior leaders push the wrong people forward.
Subject specialists obviously don’t have all the answers but they will be far more qualified to make sense of their subject and teach with real insight. This is why some many primary schools do employ subject specialists who will teach their subject all day, every day. These tend to be in modern foreign languages, P.E., music or computing. Why not for every subject?
What’s the solution?
Employ someone with a hunger and thirst for their subject and you will make children hungry and thirsty for that subject too. If you are a GP you just cannot generate that same intensity and passion for every single subject so everyone starves.
Subject specialists are desperately needed in our primary schools and ditching the traditional primary polymath model would transform teaching and learning quality.
Being a full-time class teacher and subject leader is archaic – leading a subject demands time and effort and you can’t develop expertise if you are teaching everything else.
What do you think?