Monday, 3 March 2008

The University of Cambridge Primary Review

While the DCSF have already dismissed this research, everyone who cares about learning in this country and who passionately believes in brilliant primary education should read it...


• Funding primary education: should there be parity between primary and secondary?

The first report records a marked increase in expenditure on primary education from 1998 onwards, yet ’when expenditure is expressed relative to per capita GDP the UK comes 18th out of 29 OECD countries on expenditure on primary education’ and the per pupil primary/secondary funding differential is greater than in some other OECD countries. The report argues that because children’s ‘later progress and achievement are highly dependent on earlier attainment ... it is by no means self-evident ... that primary schools should be less generously funded than secondary.’ DISCUSS!

• Is there now a ‘state theory of learning’?

The second report shows how since 1997 ‘central control in key areas of educational action has been strengthened within a framework of administrative and fiscal devolution ... Government has strengthened its hand through what may be called a “state theory of learning” ... based on the idea that the repeated high stakes testing of pupils, a national curriculum, and in primary schools mandated pedagogy in numeracy and literacy, will raise standards ... There is little doubt that the machinery of surveillance and accountability makes it difficult for schools to deviate from focusing on test performance’ The report questions whether it is right or sensible for governments to intervene to this extent in the fine detail of professional practice. DISCUSS!

• The impact of two decades of ‘reform’.

The reports track change and reform in the primary sector under both Conservative and New Labour administrations and warn that ‘tracing causation between particular reforms and children’s learning is extremely difficult’, though that has been no bar to confident claims both for and against the various reform initiatives. Yet ‘all studies shows clearly that change has occurred, and that in 2007 primary classrooms are very different places from the way they were in 1988, or even 1997.’ It records greater system coherence and improvements in the standards achieved by many pupils, ‘but a decrease in the overall quality of primary education ... because of the narrowing of the curriculum and the intensity of test preparation.’ Moreover, while one major study reported significant changes in teachers’ practice, a much larger number showed that ‘the quality of teacher-pupil interaction on which much learning depends has shown little sign of improvement and there is some evidence of decline ... At the same time, the range of teaching methods employed is probably narrower now than hitherto.’ DISCUSS!

• School inspection: stability, trust and relevance.

The fourth report notes that ‘constant change in quality assurance procedures has proved a great burden and cause for complaint by schools and teachers. While some change is inevitable to meet cultural and political expectations, the degree and pace of change have been exceptionally great in the last fifteen years ... The need to address poor provision and poor teaching is undisputed, but empirical studies have revealed flaws in the [Ofsted] inspection processes and possibilities for improvement ... It is important that policy on quality assurance should inspire the maximum possible trust between politicians, parents and professionals.’ The report also warns that ‘many research studies point to the tendency of narrowly-focused inspection to distort the curriculum. DISCUSS!

Everyone should read and talk about these reports which are available on the Primary Review web-site at

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