A couple of weeks ago I spent an inspiring day at the Cambridge Primary Review Trust national conference, Primary education: what is and what might be. Timed to mark the tenth anniversary of the launch of the Cambridge Primary Review, the conference brought together teachers, school leaders, teacher educators, researchers and other professionals to reflect on primary education’s present condition and future prospects, and, in the words of the trust, “to celebrate one of humanity’s ... uplifting endeavours: the education of young children”.
“A generous and relevant vision of primary education”
I’ve been involved with CPRT since its inception in 2012, helping to set up the trust and sitting on its board. The trust exists to build on and extend the work of the Cambridge Primary Review, the most comprehensive enquiry into English primary education for the last 50 years, which published its final report, Children, their World, their Education, in 2010. The trust aims to maximise the quality of primary education through building capacity in schools, commissioning and disseminating research evidence, ideas and principles, and engaging with policymakers and other stakeholders “in pursuit of a generous and relevant vision of primary education”.
These aims were strongly in evidence at the conference. Keynotes from Professor Robin Alexander, who has led the CPR throughout, Professor Andrew Pollard of the UCL Institute of Education, headteacher Sarah Rutty and writer and campaigner Melissa Benn considered the current state of primary education in England, and provided a series of provocations for the ‘what might be’ of the conference title. Nearly twenty discussion groups addressed issues as diverse as equity in curriculum and pedagogy, the importance of children’s voice, assessment reform, the power of the arts, and global learning and sustainable development.
Despite the wide range of issues addressed, a number of clear themes emerged through the day. These included
The need for teachers and school leaders to engage with research evidence, and to insist on professional autonomy underpinned by reflection, evidence and vision. As one of the most often-repeated quotes from the CPR final report puts it, “children will not learn to think for themselves if their teachers merely do as they are told”.
The ongoing value, particularly in today’s ‘post-truth’ world, of the CPRT’s eight priorities: equity, voice, community, sustainability, aims, curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.
The importance for the child of the process and moment of learning, as well as the outcomes of their education. Primary schools should, of course, prepare children effectively for the next stage of their education – but they should never forget their equally important role in providing experiences that help to shape the people their pupils will become.
The limitations of what can be measured in primary education, the importance of what can’t, and the need to achieve a balance between the two. This point has never been more relevant as teachers and leaders grapple with the effects of the new primary assessment and accountability regime.
CPRT ASCL Award for Evidence-Informed Leadership
As the conference drew to a close, ASCL was delighted to present an award for outstanding leadership in primary education. The CPRT ASCL Award for Evidence-Informed Leadership aimed to recognise leadership which has led to sustained impact in one or more of the CPR’s priority areas. From a group of extremely strong nominees, the award panel presented the award to two exceptional primary leaders: Graham Chisnell and Iain Erskine.
Graham, Principal of Warden House Primary School in Deal, Kent, impressed the panel with the depth of his commitment to research in his school. Each member of staff, both teaching and non-teaching, has at least one research-based appraisal target, and each year is given a ‘learning ticket’ of £150 to fund their research, plus the opportunity to apply for a £500 ‘research bursary’. This research-active culture has been a factor in the school moving from RI to outstanding in under two years.
Iain is Executive Principal of Fulbridge Academy in Peterborough. His belief and trust in a creative and immersive approach to learning has seen the school achieve consistently high standards, moving under Iain’s leadership from special measures to outstanding. Fulbridge has created a leadership model which promotes and inspires leaders at every level, and has encouraged and coached five leaders to their own headships. The colleague nominating Iain described the inspiring school he has created as ‘a place which makes you long for childhood’.
Read more about Graham, Iain and the other conference award winners.
It was a privilege to spend a day considering what matters most in primary education, and to be able to honour two colleagues who have dedicated their careers to providing children with the best possible start in life.
Colleagues can find out more about the conference and the work of the Cambridge Primary Review Trust on the CPRT website: cprtrust.org.uk.