Friday, February 20, 2009

Cambridge Primary Report

Congratulations to Professor Robin Alexander who has successfully proved Chalk's 5th Law of Teaching; which states that whenever an educational academic speaks, you must immediately stick your fingers in your ears and repeatedly shout "La-La-La...".

The Cambridge Primary Review claims that there is too much emphasis on numeracy and literacy in Primary Schools to the detriment of other subjects such as Music.

I suspect the non Cambridge University Academic public would say that this is exactly what they want and that the only things Primary Schools should bother teaching are reading, writing and sums; anything else is a bonus.

We knew this a hundred years ago. My only question is: how much did the taxpayer stump up for this twaddle?


Ian said...

"the Cambridge Review is funded by a major independent charitable foundation rather than a research council or government department and is therefore independent of the public purse; "

Mark H Wilkinson said...

The Primary Review wasn't commissioned by HM Government. It was proposed by a spod at Cambridge's Ed Dept, and supported by an independent grantmaking foundation called Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, a charitable trust which apparently has benefitted (and perhaps still does) from its private holdings.

So, how much from the taxpayer? Very little, directly, though I'd imagine various tax dodges/benefits due to charitable status etc means some money filters through indirectly.

Pogo said...

Regardless of who funded the report, Prof Alexander is being torn a new arsehole by the commenters on the BBC "Have Your Say" section of the website...

Chips of Brookfield said...

The Daily Telegraph is all in a huff about the allocation of school places by lottery. In the front-page story they worry that middle-class kids are losing out because they cannot get into the best schools - schools their parents have paid for via expensive houses in good parts of town.

The Telegraph rants that "pupils applying for places this year could effectively have their futures decided "by the roll of a dice". As apposed to the much fairer system of allocating places according to how much you can pay for a house. They go on to point out that "Children can be forced to travel several miles every day after being turned down by their local school" - this happens whatever the selection criteria. Indeed, middle-class parents often subject their children to long journeys to attend "good" or private schools - but that's clearly not a problem. Neither is telling lies about where a child lives, or their religion, or their membership of the Scouts and Guides.

They quote Robert McCartney, the head of the National Grammar Schools Association:"There is something mildly offensive about a child's future being decided by nothing more than the roll of a dice." - as opposed to flawed 11+ exam. Incidentally, in a selective system students have to travel miles to grammar schools as they rarely close to their homes.

The English Education system operates on a "separate by equal" basis - but like its counterpart in 1950s America it is separate but not equal. More poor kids go to crap schools than rich ones. Where you are born and the family you are born into shapes your educational chances and that's not right. If children were treated in this way because of the colour of their skin there would, quite rightly, be an outrage. However, the size of a families income is seen as a more acceptable form of discrimination.

Pogo said...

Where you are born and the family you are born into shapes your educational chances and that's not right.

It certainly seems to now. In "my day" (early 1960s) it wasn't quite the same...

Thanks to the "flawed 11+ exam" kids like me, bright but from a working-class background, had the chance of a damned-good education at a grammar school. I'm sure it was highy elitist but it certainly wasn't much prejudiced by "social class", just brains - two of the kids I was in class with had fathers in prison for instance.

Nowadays I guess I'd have ended up in the local "sink comprehensive" and considered myself lucky to be able to read, rather than having a Doctorate in a "hard science".

Educational theorists have done this country the most massive disservice over the last thirty years or so.

Chips of Brookfield said...


The 11+ opened the door just enough to let a few working-class kids in. The current system selects by income and freezes out the mass of the poorer sections of society.

Grammar schools will not come back en masse because the middle class will not let their kids go to secondary moderns. The middle class support grammars only so long as their kids are on the right side of the grading curve.

What we need a universally-good schools so lets forget the brief experiment with selection and think about a system that will be suited form 2050 and not 1950.

Anonymous said...

In my experience of working in both good and bad schools, even the good schools are crap. Sure the kids might be a "bit" better behaved, but they are still not really getting a good education. The reason I say this is for a few reasons.

1) The curriculum has become so dumbed down that it does not help to educate anyone. Students are not taught how to think for themselves, they are simply taught to follow the steps, without questioning what these steps are there for in the first place.

2) They are basically spoon fed their education. The reason being that thanks to this governments insistance on a target driven culture, teachers are under incredible pressure to make sure students pass at any cost. That is perhaps even more of an issue in "good" schools, because the school is constantly worrying about it's bloody league table results.

3) Schools are basically nothing more than exam factories, all schools really care about now are their exam results. Exams are not education (especially if you've spent the best part of the final year doing little but coaching students how to pass them) Exams should count for about 20% of the overall experience of going to school, not the 80-90% as they do today.

I agree with both Chips and Pogo. I agree that we need a new system of education suited to the needs of todays students. However, I also think that selection is not a bad thing. Some students are accademic and some students aren't and I don't believe it's a good idea to let the two camps mix. I also don't think schools should have to cater for both abilities. I think schools could function much better if they were geared up to helping one or the other.

However, the one thing I would add to this debate, is that what is needed if we really want to give our kids a good education, is to get rid of league tables, pretty much scrap the national curriculum and give teachers back their critical, professional autonomy, so that they are not dictated to by the government and can get on with the job of teaching, without being under pressure to make sure undeserving kids, still pass. That would give schools the freedom and the time to really educate kids, and to give them the space and time to learn to think for themselves, instead of just being spoon fed what they need to pass exams.

Pogo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pogo said...

Try again Pogo... This time proof-read before posting!!

"Chips"... Maybe the system I hanker after was more suited to the 1950s rather than the 2050s, but at least it gave a few poor but bright kids a chance. The present system doesn't even do that - as studies on the reducing levels of social mobility indicate. "Selection by wallet capacity" is something of a red herring as it has always been an option.

"Anonymous (Dave)" I agree with just about everything you say, except one, pedantic, thing... They're not "students" they're "pupils". :-)

Anonymous said...

Pogo, point taken my friend and apologies on my part. However, I come from an FE background so I tend to think of learners as students.

Lilyofthefield said...

Pogo, you and me both. God bless the 11+.

What I don't understand is how, if all the kids are getting are the 3Rs, they can't do long multiplication without a calculator nor write anything longer than a heavily-scaffolded paragraph in Y7.

Anonymous said...

As long as state schools continue to not educate their pupils properly, the ruling elite will be happy. They've engineered the situation so that the lower classes can't pose a threat to their power.

Anonymous said...

I think its very sad that all teachers' energies have to be devoted nowadays to teaching the basics. I agree that they are the top priority and we have to get them right before sending children on to secondary school. But when I was at primary school, in Scotland in the early 'sixties, there was plenty of time for the basics and music and art and lots of other subjects. For example: we learnt grammar (parts of speech, parsing sentences); poetry (the structure of verse, e.g. iambic pentameter et al (OK I've forgotten most of that); Shakespeare, Longfellow - I can still recite sections of poetry I learnt by heart at primary school); religion and mythology (I knew most of the bible stories and a lot of Greek mythology by the age of 11); and as for music, we had a wonderful music teacher who introduced us to many works of classical music which I still love and remember from that time (The Planets, Peter and the Wolf, Carnival of the Animals and many, many more); and lots and lots of singing.

There were forty of us to a class when I was at Primary school. Discipline was absolute. Teacher was boss. Disrupters (including me from time to time) were given six of the belt in front of the rest of the class (or sent to the headmistress for worse). Perhaps that's what enabled the teachers to teach us so much in the six years of our primary education. And why they can only struggle now to teach a few basics.

Lilyofthefield said...

Anonymous 13.47, I think we muct have attended the same school! Did you have to learn The Lady Of Shalott off by heart too?

Anonymous 20.27, I think you spend too much time on Youtube looking at conspiracy theories.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lily, I'm anonymous 20:27. I actually came up with that conspiracy theory all by myself (and I'm rather proud of it)!!

One day I'll make a video about it and upload it to youtube...if "they" don't have me 'silenced', before I get the chance!