The Cambridge Primary Review takes its latest step with the formation of a Trust to promote it evidence-based arguments. On the Guardian website it has published eight priorities for primary education- inviting comments on what changes are needed. They read as follows:
Help schools tackle educational disadvantage and close the attainment gap.
Child poverty currently affects between 17% and 26% of Britain's children, depending on whether you use the relative or absolute poverty measure, and poverty and social disadvantage impact directly on children's educational progress and attainment. Despite a long succession of government initiatives aimed at tackling the problem, most recently through the pupil premium, the challenges remain severe. There's a great deal that expert and inspirational teachers and school leaders working against the odds can do and have done and we must learn from them. But for their work to achieve its full impact, it must be supported by the country's wider economic, social and educational policies. All too often, such policies pull in different directions.
Give children a real say in their learning.
We must celebrate children's voice and rights in school and the classroom. As the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child points out, children should "have a right to be involved in decisions about their own learning". This influence should extend to pedagogy as well as school councils, for the classroom is where citizenship starts, and we know that discussion, dialogue and argument are very powerful tools for learning.
Primary education should not just be about preparing children for secondary school.
We need to sort out what primary education is for, and ensure that aims driving the curriculum and are not merely cosmetic. To say, as the government does, that the main aim of primary education is to make children 'secondary ready' is to undervalue children's huge potential for development and learning during the primary years. Education is about the here and now as well as the future, but schools should also address the wider condition and needs of children and society in today's complex world. Children leaving primary school should of course be ready for what follows, but what follows year 6 is life, not just year 7.
Make 'breadth and balance' more than a slogan. Take seriously the curriculum beyond the 3Rs.
While primary schools must and do insist on the importance of literacy and numeracy, they should also lay foundations in other areas – in spoken language, science, the arts, the humanities, in physical, emotional and moral development and lived experience. These are in their different ways no less important for children's future learning, choices and lives; they might actually make children more "secondary ready" than the 3Rs alone.
The CPR argues against the old two-tier curriculum – where the basic subjects are covered in depth while the rest of the curriculum is in some schools treated seriously but in others is left to chance, and where the idea of 'standards' is confined to the 3Rs. This approach undermines the cultural and economic worth of the non-core subjects and flies in the face of research that shows how learning in one area enhances learning in others. Without deflecting attention from the importance of literacy, CPRT argues for a primary curriculum whose core includes essential knowledge, skills and experience drawn from all subjects, not just three of them.
Increase the focus on evidence-based pedagogy.
It's only through teaching that the curriculum comes alive for children. And it's only through understanding the art, science and craft of teaching – from research, inspection and shared experience – that teachers can inform and refine their practice. Relying on habit or official pronouncements isn't enough. A greater focus on what evidence tells us about effective teaching and learning will enable teachers to help every child achieve the highest possible standard in all aspects of their education.
Assessment should be about more than just test results.
Where assessment and standards are concerned we need a wider practical repertoire and a more sophisticated vocabulary. We must devise approaches that enhance learning as well as test it, that support the curriculum rather than distort it, and that pursue high standards in all areas of learning, not just the core subjects. It's no longer acceptable that tests at a moment in time and in a narrow spectrum of learning are treated as measures of a child's entire educational attainment or of everything that schools aim to provide. Tests have their place, but both assessment and accountability should be about much more than test results.
Schools should connect with the community.
Britain has immense demographic, economic, cultural and linguistic diversity, which creates a vast array of educational circumstances and needs. The best of our schools don't just work closely with their local communities but make the curriculum responsive to local needs and opportunities and live the very idea of community in their everyday work and relationships.
The discourse of educational policy must change, and radically
As recent events have shown, policymakers tend to be interested only in evidence that fits their ideology or prejudice, and they may ignore or even abuse those who provide evidence that doesn't fit the political bill. Deep and lasting improvements in our education system will be achieved only when policymakers are even-handed rather than selective in their use of evidence and when they speak about education in a way that exemplifies the educated mind rather than demeans it.
CPR addresses general primary issues but readers will recognise the scope for small schools especially to address these priorities. The encouragement of local community links is almost a rule of thumb for us.