Primary education: evidence with vision


In October 2006, a team led by Professor Robin Alexander FAcSS of the University of Cambridge launched the most comprehensive enquiry into English primary education since the 1960s. Funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and supported by public and professional opinion canvassed over the previous two years, the Cambridge Primary Review spoke to widespread concern that social change and accelerating yet piecemeal educational reform had left the sector confused as to its purposes, insufficiently informed by evidence and in a state of acute policy overload.

Combining the rigour of a research programme with the openness of a public enquiry, the Review collected a vast array of evidence about primary education’s condition and future.

Between 2007 and 2009 it published 31 interim reports and 40 briefings on matters as diverse as aims, curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, quality assurance, school organisation, leadership, teacher training, governance, funding and policy; and on the contexts of childhood and culture in which these are or should be embedded. These attracted exceptional media and public attention: on five of the Review’s ten publication dates its reports were the top UK news story overall.The Review culminated in October 2009 with the launch of its final report, Children, their World, their Education, which won the 2011 SES Book Prize.

A period of dissemination and discussion followed, during which an already noticeable gap between public enthusiasm and governmental reserve became somewhat more marked – hardly surprising given that several flagship reforms had come under the spotlight. In any case, ideas generated by the Review began to influence official thinking and, more important for the longer term, the thinking and practice of teachers and school leaders. In recognition of this, Professor Alexander received the first BERA/SAGE Public Impact Award in 2015.

In 2012 the Review was superseded by the Cambridge Primary Review Trust (CPRT). This not for profit organisation is committed to building on the Review’s work through fresh research, teacher development, policy engagement and the activities of 13 regional networks. It seeks to universalise a primary education that provides the richest possible foundation for the learning and lives of all the nation’s children, especially those who are vulnerable or disadvantaged.

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