The Cambridge Primary Review

Children, their World, their Education image

The  Cambridge Primary Review is the most comprehensive enquiry into English primary education for 40 years. The final report and recommendations of the Cambridge Primary Review have now been published in a book entitled Children, their World, their Education. The publication is edited by Professor Robin Alexander. 


Despite its recommendation for primary teaching to become a research informed practice, the Cambridge Review of Primary Education has finally been released in print format only, albeit with an on-line summary and downloadable "special booklet" for primary schools. The financial imperative involved in mounting such a large scale independent review might justify the report, and its constituent research reports, being only available in commercial print format, but the result is that the target audience is denied easy access to the full report and research papers. Interested readers have to rely on the press release, four-page briefing, the primary school introduction and several summaries of the research reports.


As the report developed and published its interim reports, the TTRB attempted to review them. These are listed below and are worthy of consideration in the light of the recommendations contained in the final report. Access to most of these interim reports is no longer available on-line, as they have been withdrawn for final revision and inclusion in the book of background research.


From the briefing document and coverage in the press, we are able to deduce that:


The Report is in five parts:

Part 1: Considers primary education from the 1960s to the present day

Part 2: Deals with children's social development and learning within and beyond the school and takes into account changes in society

Part 3: Examines what goes on in primary schools including early years, aims, curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, standards and school organisation

Part 4: Explores the system in terms of ages and stages, schools and other agencies, teacher development, leadership, workforce reform, governance funding and policy

Part 5: Presents 78 formal conclusions and 75 recommendations for policy and practice.


The report has gathered much attention in the media. This has focused on:


  • the debunking of the 'Toxic childhood' media fixation. Children appear happier than parents would appear to think
  • there is a severe tail of disadvantage and underachievement amongst children
  • the report proposes a delay in the start of formal schooling until the age of six
  • children are too often classified as having special educational needs due to "stereotypes and discrimination" rather than a considered analysis of evidence
  • improved teaching rather than stricter sanctions should serve to improve behaviour
  • parents can over-control as well as under-control their children.

The report generally finds that primary schools are places of stability and positive values in an uncertain, changing world. Schools are not under the influence of fashions of practice from the 1970s and do not neglect the 3Rs. The challenges for primary schools are different. The review proposes 12 aims that should stimulate curriculum, pedagogy and school life. These are grounded in evidence but should be widely debated. The aims result in eight domains of knowledge centred on language, oracy and literacy. This requires a change from the 19th century model of the generalist primary school teacher towards the incorporation of specialist teachers, alongside an increase in funding to levels similar to secondary education. 


Summative assessment at the end of key stage 2 should be maintained, but focus more widely on aspects of primary education in a less intrusive manner, based upon teacher assessment. Sample testing and improved Ofsted inspection should enhance system and school accountability.


It argues for a pedagogy based on ‘repertoire and principle' rather than ‘recipe and prescription'. Teaching and professional development should become fully informed, rather than selectively informed, by research.


The importance of having teachers with the depth of knowledge necessary to enable learning to progress is stressed. Teaching Assistants are a welcome addition to school resources, but they cannot be a substitute for a teacher who can handle current and emerging curriculum demands.


The report challenges the claim that teachers are ‘the best trained ever', stating that vital elements of teaching are neglected in teacher training. Teachers should not be trained for mere delivery or compliance, which was a charge also made by the Government Select Committee on Education when considering the National Curriculum. The report argues for a greater focus on evidence-based pedagogy, subject expertise, curriculum analysis and the open exploration of questions of value and purpose. It is critical of the TDA standards for professional certification and advancement, in that they are too general to discriminate between different professional levels and do not link to learning outcomes. A response to these points might be that the standards are intended to be flexible and future-proofed so that they can be utilised in changing circumstances. It could be argued that they are intended to be broad and, as a result, are broadly linked to the evidence.


The report also emphasises the importance of the primary school's relationship with the community and welcomes multi-agency and cross phase working. It argues for the retention of middle schools where they occur and the benefits for cross-school curriculum partnerships. The report finally calls for "the responsibilities of the DCSF, non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs), local authorities and schools to be re-balanced; and for top-down control and edict to be replaced by professional empowerment, mutual accountability and proper respect for research and experience".


Dissemination Conferences will be held around the UK from November 2009 until February 2010.  Further details and booking information can be downloaded from the link shown below.


Email the Cambridge Review Administrator

Telephone: +44 (0)1223 767523

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