The biggest independent review of primary education in 40 years has accused government of introducing a curriculum “even narrower than that of the Victorian elementary schools”. Based on 28 research surveys, 1052 written submissions and 250 focus groups, the Cambridge review was headed by Professor Robin Alexander at Cambridge University, and involved 66 research consultants and a 20-strong advisory committee. Its remit was far wider than the government-backed Rose Review.
Its report is damning of Labour government intervention in primary education, the promoting of a “state theory of learning”. They write, “We do argue for a rolling back of the powers of the state and reversal of the centralisation of how teachers teach.” It condemns what every primary teacher knows to be true: SATs testing combined with league tables has reduced what is taught to a narrow diet of the 3 Rs, excluding other subjects to the margins. This is not based on good evidence about what works for young children, but comes from successive ministers treating education as their private fiefdom: “The politicisation of primary education has ... gone too far. Discussion has been blocked by derision, truth has been supplanted by myth and spin, and alternatives to current arrangements have been reduced to crude dichotomy,” they write.
Nevertheless, primary schools can be “the centre that holds” for many children, succeeding in spite of government. The Review recommends that formal lessons should wait until children are 6, extending the rich play-based early years curriculum until then.