Sal McKeown looks at some of the implications of the renewed primary Framework for those working with children with special educational needs
The renewed Primary Framework, which came into force in September 2007, is a response to Excellence and enjoyment: a strategy for primary schools. Some of the messages in this document could have been written by staff in special schools:
‘Excellent teaching gives children the life chances they deserve... Enjoyment is the birthright of every child. But the most powerful mix is the one that brings the two together. Children learn better when they are excited and engaged—but whatexcites and engages them best is truly excellent teaching.’
Excellence and Enjoyment: A strategy for primary schools (2003)
With the renewed Primary Framework it seems as if primary teachers will have to put into practice what special schools have been doing for years: they now have to teach to the needs of the individual child, instead of just following a syllabus. The renewed Primary Framework is quite flexible: the objectives are laid down for a year instead of term by term, so teachers can decide in which order to cover things and how much time to spend on individual elements. They might want to spend a whole hour on just one aspect of maths or a piece of writing and indeed, on some days the plenary may not happen at all! Teachers can also choose to use objectives from other years if these are more suitable. If a child or a whole class are not ready for Year 4 work, teachers can use objectives from earlier years and build up from there. Assessment is more important than ever before and runs through the whole framework. But there is a change of emphasis: teachers have to look at their children, see which point they are at, what can they do, what can’t they do, and teach accordingly. Again this won’t be news to those in special schools who are accustomed to assessing all aspects of the child and checking against different milestones. The renewed Primary Framework advocates different forms of assessment too: problem solving, group discussions and pair work as well as question-and-answer and writing tasks.
Literacy and numeracy
Many teachers will be delighted to learn that this framework is much slimmer: there are twelve strands of learning in literacy and seven in mathematics. Since many elements correlate very closely with the old framework, you will still be able to use many of their favourite activities. For literacy, there is a renewed emphasis on phonics. It is seen very much as the key approach for reading and spelling. But there are some changes which special school staff will welcome: speaking and listening are seen as much more important than previously and drama is almost mandatory! This is going to make for some very noisy classrooms but it will help those pupils who learn by doing, rather than by looking or listening. Hopefully, it will also help children with immature social skills. On the numeracy side, staff may choose to keep the structure of the daily Maths lesson if their pupils like it but they do not need to follow it slavishly. One difference is that there is much more emphasis on making real-life connections, looking at the language of maths and linking what children learn to the world outside.
What support is available?
There are guidance papers on the site covering a range of topics. For example, in the mathematics area, there are papers on using calculators, oral and mental strategies and using and applying mathematics. Literacy guidance includes a phonics overview, ‘simple view of reading’, and progression and pace. Publishers have also been quick to respond to the demands of the new framework. For example, Collins has published a whole-school programme with three clear levels of differentiation to make it easy to find the right material to support the individual needs of each child and ensure progression. These materials have built-in assessment to makes it easy to see how children are progressing and ensure development. On the maths side, there is a CD-ROM with whiteboard software, lesson slides and pupil practice materials. This complements the assessment pack and the print materials with lessons for each day of the school year. The CD-ROMs which are part of the Collins Primary Literacy materials to support the renewed Primary Framework have some exciting new classroom materials and feature Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen, former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo, and poet Benjamin Zephaniah performing live. Harcourt has taken a slightly different approach. The company has aligned lots of its resources to the renewed Primary Framework, which will be particularly good news for schools that have already bought Harcourt products. For example, the renewed Primary Framework contains an ‘outline of progression’ showing how children should progress in their phonics. Harcourt has provided a free online chart, showing how the ‘phases’ in the outline fit with the unit structure of their product Fast Phonics First. On the maths side, the company has launched Go Maths, which has lesson plans, assessment guidance and differentiated resources for teaching the number and calculation objectives.
Bringing in ICT
For me, the most interesting part of the renewed Primary Framework is the ICT section, which lies within the literacy framework (www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/primaryframeworks/literacy/ictapplications/). Some of the ideas for activities are quite challenging but should provide some really nice classroom activities. For foundation stage ‘Engaging with and responding to texts’ they suggest teachers use Digital Blue Movie Creator or similar to ‘create a visual adaptation of a simple text using toys, modelling clay and stop-frame animation techniques’. In speaking and listening KS1, one simple idea is to use a ‘rub and reveal’ technique on an interactive whiteboard to disclose parts of a hidden picture to encourage speculation and discussion. There are lots of ideas for storyboarding and producing video or audio recording and podcasts. Some activities are not going to be suitable for many pupils with special needs. For ‘creating and shaping texts’ KS1, they suggest writing a story on email with a partner school, sending text backwards and forwards, and making suggestions and alterations. This will work in some cases but most schools will find it hard to respond quickly to email because of other commitments or because of the thinking time needed by pupils. This sort of project looks good on paper but inevitably loses energy as time goes on. Another example that might be problematic is Speaking KS2 – Peer Review. Here, teachers ask pupils to present their findings from a science investigation, using PowerPoint or similar presentation software, and ‘to debate alternative methodologies and conclusions, mirroring the practice of scientific communities outside school’. I am not sure that many teachers could do this, never mind the children! The renewed Primary Framework has a great deal more flexibility than previous strategies. I suspect that some primary schools will relish the opportunities for more flexible teaching and learning and the increased potential for creativity in the classroom—and the same is true of special schools. Where good teaching flourishes, the renewed Primary Framework will be seen as an asset. It recognises and promotes creative solutions, engaging and purposeful activities and the links between the classroom and the world outside.
Sal McKeown is a freelance writer