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Transcript of Aims and values in primary education: England and ... AIMS AND VALUES IN PRIMARY EDUCATION: ENGLAND...

  • Research Survey 1/2

    AimS And VAlueS in PRimARy educAtion: englAnd And otheR countRieS

    maha Shuayb and Sharon o’donnell national Foundation for educational Research

    For other interim reports in this series, and for briefings on each report, go to

    this report has been commissioned as evidence to the Primary Review. The analysis and opinions it contains are the authors’ own.

    Copyright © University of Cambridge 2008





    Primary Review Research Survey 1/2

    Maha Shuayb and Sharon O’Donnell

  • This is one of a series of 32 interim reports from the Primary Review, an independent enquiry into the condition and future of primary education in England. The Review was launched in October 2006 and will publish its final report in late 2008. The Primary Review, supported by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, is based at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education and directed by Robin Alexander. A briefing which summarises key issues from this report has also been published. The report and briefing are available electronically at the Primary Review website: The website also contains Information about other reports in this series and about the Primary Review as a whole. (Note that minor amendments may be made to the electronic version of reports after the hard copies have been printed). We want this report to contribute to the debate about English primary education, so we would welcome readers’ comments on anything it contains. Please write to: [email protected]

    The report forms part of the Review’s research survey strand, which consists of thirty specially-commissioned surveys of published research and other evidence relating to the Review’s ten themes. The themes and reports are listed in Appendices 1 and 3. The theme: this survey relates to Primary Review theme 1, Purposes and Values. The authors: Maha Shuayb is a Research Officer in the Research, Evaluation and Information Department (REID) of the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). Sharon O’Donnell is Principal Information Officer and Head of the International Information Unit at NFER. Suggested citation: Shuayb, M. and O’Donnell, S. (2008) Aims and Values in Primary Education: England and other countries (Primary Review Research Survey 1/2), Cambridge: University of Cambridge Faculty of Education. Published January 2008 by The Primary Review, University of Cambridge Faculty of Education, 184 Hills Road, Cambridge, CB2 8PQ, UK. Copyright © 2008 The University of Cambridge. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Primary Review, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation or the University of Cambridge. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data: A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library. ISBN 978-1-906478-13-1


    1.1 Background

    This survey compares the stated aims, purposes and values of primary education in England with those of five other countries (Scotland, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden and the Netherlands), drawing on historical as well as contemporary sources. It covers the period from 1965 to December 2006 and, in so doing, addresses the following questions:

    • what are the aims and values of primary education; and

    • how have they changed over time?

    The survey defines primary education as the first phase of compulsory education, comparable with key stages 1 and 2 of the system in England – ages four/five to eleven.

    1.2 Strategy and methods

    The survey comprises an exploratory, predominantly descriptive, chronological review of literature on the stated purposes, values and priorities of primary education in England and Scotland (for the UK), Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Sweden. It draws mainly on policy documents, key legislation, curriculum guidelines, policy guidance, and policy reviews and statements. Sources are placed in a historical perspective going back to the time of the publication, in 1967, of the Plowden Report in England (DES 1967).

    The survey reviews policy documents which were available to the research team as part of the documentary collection kept for the Eurydice at NFER1 and INCA projects2, and available or accessible via the Eurydice Network or INCA databases. The review was further informed by some broader, international comparative literature and commentaries on the aims, purposes and values of primary education. A full list of references and websites consulted is attached.

    1.3 The survey limitations

    As this review of the aims, purposes and values of primary education in the six selected countries covers documents available in English only, the authors are unable to make all- encompassing conclusions. It is also of note that few of the policy documents analysed and reviewed limited themselves to explicit statements of the aims, purposes and goals for

    1 Eurydice at NFER is the Eurydice Unit for England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the Eurydice

    Network. Eurydice is the information network on education in Europe. Sharon O’Donnell, who assisted Maha Shuayb in the compilation of this report, is the Head of the Eurydice Unit for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

    2 INCA is the International Review of Curriculum and Assessment Frameworks Internet Archive. It

    provides a regularly updated online source of information on curriculum, assessment and initial teacher training frameworks in 20 countries. The project is funded by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) and the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA). It is managed and updated by the International Information Unit at the NFER. Sharon O’Donnell, who assisted Maha Shuayb in the compilation of this report, is the Project Leader for INCA at the NFER.

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    primary education. Consequently, the authors analysed a range of documentation, drawing out the key points of reference relevant to the primary phase.

    2. Summary of the findings

    In the last 40 years, primary education in England and the other countries of the study has witnessed considerable change and, in some cases, restructuring. Despite a large number of initiatives and system changes, the aims, purposes, values and priorities of primary education have continued, during the period, to be shaped by two main influences or theories. The first, put forward by advocates of a child-centred and progressive education3 calls for a flexible and autonomous system of primary education (Boyce 1946; Marshall 1963; Schiller 1972; March 1970; Armstrong 1980; Rowland 1984); the second, driven more by a country’s political and socio-economic goals, emphasises centralisation and standardisation.

    2.1 Aims, purposes and values in primary education: 1960 to 1979

    Education during the sixties fell under the influence of humanist and child-centred philosophies. In England, a child-centred ethos was strongly manifested in the Plowden Report (DES 1967) which advocated holistic and rounded education, care for children’s diverse needs, and individualisation.

    In Scotland, the influence of the child-centred philosophy was demonstrated in the publication of The Primary Memorandum (SED 1965), which set out a curriculum for the primary school designed to accommodate the interests of children of a wide range of abilities and interests.

    However, attempts to implement these theories in primary education in England and Scotland, proved challenging. In England, the escalating debate between advocates of child- centeredness and those on the side of educational conservatism resulted in the publication of contradictory policy documents, including The Black Paper (DES 1978a), for example, disputing the principles of Plowden. In New Zealand and Germany attempts to shift education towards a more child-centred approach were even less successful than in England and Scotland, and the two countries continued to exercise a teacher-centred system.

    Perhaps the most significant effect of the child-centred approach expressed in the aims, values and purposes of education during this period was in the changing attitudes towards ethnic minority pupils and pupils with special educational needs. This resulted in a range of legislation and policy documents in England, published during the seventies, which related specifically to the needs of bilingual, ethnic minority, or ‘handicapped’ children. This movement was echoed in the education systems of the Netherlands, Scotland and Sweden, although the extent to which the values were applied varied between countries.

    Towards the end of the period, child-centred education philosophies attracted considerable criticism, being deemed difficult to assess and a hindrance to economic growth.

    2.2 Aims, purposes and values in primary education: the 1980s

    During the eighties two main trends were identified in the majority of the countries surveyed: budgets allocated to education increased, and governments sought increased