Aims as Policy in English Primary Education

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This is one of 32 interim reports in The Cambridge Primary Review, an independent enquiry into the condition and the future of primary education. It began in October 2006 and is due to present its final report later this year. Information on the Review, all its reports and press releases can be found here. It describes itself as perhaps the most comprehensive exploration of primary education since the Plowden Report in 1967. Directed by Robin Alexander, it is based at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education, and is supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. 


This interim report belongs to the Research Survey strand of the Review, and is one of four related research surveys under the theme of Purposes and Values in primary education. This report presents the aims of English primary education as proposed historically in official documentation and by educationists. Thus both policy and philosophy are explored in the report.


The aims of the resource:
As with all the reports for the Primary review, this interim report hopes to provide information and to provoke discussion. The author, John White (Emeritus Professor of the Philosophy of Education at the Institute of Education, University of London), has been charged with surveying the relevant policy documents and literature in order to present a comprehensive picture and critical discussion of the changing aims of English primary education. The report also compares English curriculum aims with the official views of aims for other parts of the United Kingdom.  Although divided into two sections, exploring policy then theoretical perspectives, these two aspects are interlinked and the reader is encouraged to reflect on the historical content in section one, whilst considering the implications from the second, theoretical section.


Key findings or focus:
The report identifies key moments in policy making which have contributed to the aims of English Primary Education, from 1904 to the present day. It maps the historical changes and the influences on education, from Robert Morant in 1904, through to the present National Curriculum aims (1999) and the approaches of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). It explores the various views of what primary education should aim to achieve, including intellectual aims; practical activities; identification of able children; the development of personal qualities; the acquisition of knowledge and skills; the nurturing of responsible citizens and the importance of well-being and autonomy. The recursive nature of some aspects, such as the Gifted and Talented initiative, is highlighted.


The second section of the report addresses the question of what the aims of primary education should be, by considering the views of various educationalists. This part of the report illustrates how policy and theoretical perspectives influence each other. The contrasting views of education as being concerned with knowledge acquisition or with child-centred natural development are explored, as are the aspects of personal autonomy and well-being. The section deals with holistic and interconnected accounts of the aims of education. 


The author explains the change in focus by policy makers, from specifically primary aims to generic educational aims. He also makes a strong case for the need for all aims to have a clearly communicated rationale. 


The quality, authority and credibility of the resource from your subject perspective in relation to ITE:
This is an authoritative and thorough survey of official policy which communicates the various aims of English primary education in policy, as well as wide ranging theoretical perspectives. The author, an established academic, is Emeritus Professor of Education at the Institute of Education, University of London. The report raises important, complex issues within an historical and current political context. It draws attention to the importance of reflection on what education should be about. It emphasises the need for an explicit, underpinning rationale to be shared when policy decisions about aims are made. This rationale would enhance all aspects of education, including curriculum design.


The implications for ITE tutors/mentors:
The comprehensive nature of this survey report makes it a very useful resource for ITE professionals. It is invaluable as a reference document, for both its historical information and theoretical perspectives. It would provide a helpful stimulus for discussion with ITE students around the fundamental purposes of education, as well as the implications for their own approaches to the curriculum, teaching and learning. It provides a context for reflection on the ethos of the various schools and settings students experience as well as a broader consideration of the aims of education.


The relevance to ITE students:
The report is highly relevant, and provides ITE students with an informed and detailed review of the aims of primary education, in terms of 'what happened when' as well as more complex theoretical perspectives. The author challenges the reader to consider what might be important in the future establishment of aims. This comes at a key moment in curriculum review and development. From the very start of their careers, new teachers will be involved in whole school decisions in response to evolving national policy demands. Although it is most relevant for those students preparing for a career in primary education, it is appropriate reading for students of all age ranges.


Reviewed by:

Justine Earl

Authors :

John White

Source :

Publisher :

University of Cambridge

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