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Science and languages are the 'poor relations' in primary schools, Wilshaw warns

Head of Ofsted admits that his own inspectors' focus on English and maths is partly to blame for science and languages being 'marginalised'.

Science and foreign languages have become the “poor relations” in the primary school curriculum due to an over-emphasis on teaching maths and English, Ofsted has warned.

In his monthly commentary, chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw says too little time is allocated to the teaching of the two subjects, which have become “marginalised”.

Sir Michael also admits that the watchdog’s own inspectors have added to the focus on numeracy and literacy.

While Sir Michael praises the performance of primary schools across the country, particularly for their achievements in national tests, he warns that heads must offer a broad curriculum to their pupils.

“There is little doubt that the main factor driving this success has been the strong emphasis on improving the basic knowledge and skills of primary school pupils in reading, writing and numeracy,” he writes.

“However, a number of recent studies have suggested that this focus on the so-called ‘3 Rs’ has pushed other compulsory subjects, notably modern foreign languages and science, to the margins of the curriculum in many primary schools.”

According to the former headteacher, evidence from 340 inspections over the last two terms, revealed that in around two-thirds of primary schools visited, pupils spent less than an hour a week learning a foreign language.

Sir Michael said the “vast majority” of schools spent four hours or more each week teaching English and maths. But none of them devoted a similar time to teaching science, “the third core subject on the primary curriculum”.

The lack of quality lessons in these subjects was likely to have an impact on the government’s ability to make all students to study the English Baccalaureate suite of subjects at GCSE by 2020, he added.

The chief inspector, also admitted that Ofsted was partly to blame for the emphasis on numeracy and literacy.

“It is fair to say that in recent years, Ofsted’s inspections of primary schools have prioritised the quality of provision in English and mathematics. In my view, this has helped to bring about the improved performance and standards I referred to at the start of this commentary,” he writes.

“However, the evidence from this recent investigation has convinced me that we need to put as sharp a focus on the other subjects as we do on English and mathematics. As a result, I have reminded inspectors that they should always be looking closely at the subjects of the wider primary curriculum, including science and foreign languages, as set out in the inspection handbook.”

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