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Preserving What We Love In English Education

Ruth Merttens By Ruth Merttens

Hamilton is dedicated to preserving what is unique and special about primary education here in the land of J. K. Rowling and William Wilberforce.

Like Michael Rosen, whose outspoken support of learning and literature inspires teachers all over the world, I am old enough to remember a time when not just the children, but also their teachers really enjoyed primary education in England. Having raised my own 6 children, I am proud to be a ‘Nana’ now to 11 gorgeous grandchildren, 9 of whom are at primary school. And do you know what? I want them to enjoy primary school as much as my children did. I want them to be stimulated, encouraged, made curious and inspired.

English primary education had a world-wide reputation as being based on a ‘drawing-out’ as much as a ‘putting-in’ model of learning. However, I greatly fear that we stand to lose what is most admirable about our primary schools. Teachers report that children are over-monitored and over-tested, that targets are sometimes irrelevant and often unrealistic, and that they themselves are massively overworked, highly pressurised, and generally stressed. Worst of all, they report the sense of not being trusted, as conscientious professionals, to do a good job. It is clear that teachers, at least, are no longer enjoying primary school. Surely it will follow, if it has not already, that children don’t enjoy it either.

Hamilton is dedicated to preserving what is unique and special about primary education here in the land of J. K. Rowling and William Wilberforce. Our English plans and cross-curricular topics aim to provide stimulation and interest as well as accurate information and the practice of essential skills. They encourage individual creativity as well as academic rigour. Our maths blocks and plans are dedicated to providing all you need to help children master the challenging, age-related targets set by the new National Curriculum.

But 'mastery' is not an East Asian notion, it is Anglo-American in origin, and we believe that schools do not need to throw out what is best in British primary education to deliver a curriculum based on mastery. It is possible to achieve mastery using home-grown programmes such as Hamilton, while preserving our own distinctive pedagogy. It may mean that more time has, of necessity, to be devoted to maths and English, but there must still be room for excitement, creativity and – yes – enjoyment. If there is not, then I for one will feel that the baby has definitely been thrown out with the proverbial bath water.

-- Ruth Merttens

Thoughts from our Teachers

Teachers have let us know that there is great support for our call 'to encourage individual creativity as well as academic rigour.' Thank you for sharing your own enthusiasm for persevering with a creative curriculum in the face of a spiralling workload and overwhelming pressures.

I couldn't agree more. Taking my class of year 5 children into the woods at school to tell stories from the Qur'an to each other produced the essence of what is real in the teaching and learning of English - using language to communicate, share, instruct and entertain. It was a magical and enriching experience for us all.

South London teacher

I have read your newsletter with interest and thoroughly agree with your view.  I also applaud the work which Hamilton is doing in providing the rich plans and resources which you produce.

Teacher in Malawi

I believe we are achieving your ideals within a very creative curriculum; children love coming to school, our attendance rate is very high, and no two days are the same. Having said that, teachers are still under a great deal of pressure to reach targets and some targets are set too high... children need to feel valued as such and inspired by a curriculum which is varied and meets their very diverse needs. That is not to say we ever stop believing that they too could achieve equally as high as our present top children. Often a door is opened through a more diverse and creative approach.

London teacher

Thank You for your work preserving all that is good about English Primary education. It is 5pm at the end of half term, every teacher in school is so tired, yet still here doing their best for the children. Please continue to campaign for us all!

Devon teacher

Thank you so very much for caring and sharing this insightful and very sad truth. I absolutely love teaching and my students know that I enjoy doing so and that I enjoy them immensely.

Primary school teacher of English and Spanish

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