Jack of all trades, master of none

I’ve just finished teaching the Stone Age to Iron Age with Y3/4. It’s safe to say we loved it! In fact, when one child went to meet Sir David Attenborough and missed a lesson, another said what a shame it was that they’d missed it!

The children in the two parallel classes enjoyed it but didn’t love it in the same way. Is that because I’m a superior teacher to their teachers? No, but I did have superior knowledge about this topic. I was the person who researched and planned the unit of work. I spent days – very enjoyable days – researching and planning whilst my colleagues did the same with other areas of the curriculum.

My knowledge and enthusiasm during these lessons was clear and brought the children along for the ride. The thing is, I won’t teach this unit of work for another two years now. I will have forgotten some of what I learnt this time round and will have to spend some time revising before teaching it again.

This is where our secondary colleagues have an advantage as they reteach the same units of work (presumably adapted accordingly to suit different classes) many times. Secondary teachers have another advantage, in that they are teaching one or two subjects that often they studied at A Level or for their degree, and therefore have an in-depth subject knowledge.

Primary teachers must teach every area of the curriculum and be a Jack of all trades, master of none. Or must they? In my phase, my colleagues and I have two afternoons a week where the children rotate between three short lessons – each taught by a different teacher. The benefits of this is that the children get PE taught by the PE lead, RE taught by the RE lead, music taught by a music specialist. However, they also get computing and French taught by me so it’s not perfect!

Is this the way forward? I recently saw outstanding artwork from a school in Wirral where a secondary trained art teacher delivers the art curriculum. The children are rightly proud of their accomplishments. For some time, many schools have had service level agreements for ‘specialist’ subjects. Some people argue this is deskilling teachers as they aren’t teaching such a wide range of subjects, but are we truly skilful in all subjects? Is it possible?

Given the deep dives being conducted with the new Ofsted framework should the primary sector be seeking to develop teachers who are masters of a few subjects rather than Jack of all trades? Or should we continue to favour developing close relationships with our class? Answers on a postcard please…


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