The Cambridge Primary Review (CPR) was launched in October 2006 as a fully independent enquiry into the condition and future of primary education in England. It aimed to re-assess existing evidence, collect additional evidence from a wide range of sources and stakeholders, separate truth from media myth and political spin, and shape a vision for the future of this vital phase of children’s education.
The Review has been supported since its inception by generous grants from Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. The scope of the Review and the depth of its evidence have made it the most comprehensive enquiry into English primary education since the Plowden report of 1967. Between October 2007 and February 2009 the Review published 31 interim reports, including 28 surveys of published research, together with 39 briefings, 14 media releases and several newspaper articles. The Review’s 608-page final report Children, their World, their Education: final report and recommendations of the Cambridge Primary Review was published on 16 October 2009, together with an 850-page companion volume, The Cambridge Primary Review Research Surveys. There followed a year of dissemination events and in October 2010 the Review entered its current phase of building professional and political networks to build on its evidence and ideas and secure action on its key proposals. In December 2012 the Review embarked on a new phase as a not for profit educational trust dedicated to building on the Review’s work and advancing the cause of high quality primary education for all children. Simultaneously, through a partnership with Pearson Education, its new sponsor, Cambridge Primary Review Trust (CPRT) aims to build capacity through jointly-branded professional materials and development activities.
Phase 1, 2004-06 consultation, feasibility study and planning
Phase 2, 2006-09 implementation and interim reporting
Phase 3, 2009-10 final report and dissemination.
Phase 4, 2010-12 networking and policy engagement
Phase 5, 2012- advancing the cause, capacity building through commercial partnership
Robin Alexander conceived and initiated the Review and has directed it since its launch in 2006.
The implementation phase (2006-9) was spearheaded by a team based at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education comprising a seven-strong core group and 11 part-time research assistants. They were supported by 66 research consultants in 21 university departments, a 20-strong advisory committee chaired by Dame Gillian Pugh, a management group chaired by Hilary Hodgson, and a communications strategy led by Dr Richard Margrave.
During the initial dissemination phase (2019-10) the central team was scaled down and instead a panel of national advocates spoke on the Review’s behalf at the many dissemination events.
One recurrent theme of these events was teachers’ desire for professional autonomy, support and capacity-building after a decade of government prescription and micro-management. Accordingly, and with further support from Esmée Farbairn Foundation, the team expanded again and in October 2010 the Cambridge Primary Network was launched, with Alison Peacock as Network Leader, and nine regional centres on 12 university sites, each with its own co-ordinator and programme of professional partnership and action research.
In December 2012 CPR entered an exciting new phase. First an independent not-for-profit trust was established, with seven priorities for the reform of advancement of primary education distilled from the previous phases and headed by the urgent need to find practical ways to give the nation’s disadvantaged children access to high quality primary education and close the gap in educational attainment between these children and others. Next, in April 2013, the Trust entered into partnership with its new sponsor, Pearson, to build professional capacity, grounded in the Review’s evidence and ideas, through jointly-branded publications and activities. This new phase was marked by the Trust moving its office from Cambridge to the more central location of York. The Trust and its directorial team are chaired by Robin Alexander. Further information at http://cprtrust.org.uk.
The Cambridge Primary Review was conceived as a matrix of ten themes and four strands of evidence, overarched by three perspectives:
- The lives and needs of children and the condition of childhood today
- The condition of the society and world in which today’s children are growing up
- The present condition and future prospects of England’s system of primary education
The ten themes addressed by the Review were:
- Purposes and values
- Learning and teaching
- Curriculum and assessment
- Quality and standards
- Diversity and inclusion
- Settings and professionals
- Parenting, caring and educating
- Beyond the school
- Structures and phases
- Funding and governance
In respect of these ten themes, which are elaborated as 23 sub-themes and 100 research questions, the Review aimed to combine evidence on the way England’s system of primary education operates and with what success, with a vision for its future development.
The Review’s four main strands of evidence:
Submissions. Following the convention in enquiries of this kind, written submissions were invited from all who wished to contribute. By March 2009, 1052 submissions had been received. They ranged from brief single-issue expressions of opinion to substantial documents of up to 300 pages covering several or all of the themes and comprising both detailed evidence and recommendations for the future. In addition, the Review received several thousand emails.
Soundings. This strand comprised 250 ‘soundings’ or focus group sessions with key stakeholders. At the ‘community soundings’ the Review team travelled to different parts of England for 87 regionally-based witness sessions with groups of children, parents, governors, teachers, teaching assistants and heads, and with a variety of community representatives. The national soundings were more formal meetings with national organisations both inside and outside education, including many meetings with representatives of government, opposition and official agencies.
Surveys. 28 detailed surveys of published research relating to the Review’s ten themes were commissioned, on the basis of competitive bidding and peer review, from 66 academic consultants in leading university departments of education and allied fields in England, Scotland, Ireland and Norway. The resulting research reports and their accompanying briefings and media releases were published in cross-thematic groups over several months, starting between October 2007 and May 2008. They provoked considerable media, public and political interest, and provided the top UK news story on several occasions.
Searches and policy mapping. With the co-operation of DfES/DCSF (now DfE), QCA/QCDA, Ofsted and TDA, the Review tracked recent policy and examined official data bearing on the primary phase. This provided the necessary legal, demographic, financial and statistical background to the Review and an important resource for its consideration of policy options. The Review also searched relevant OECD and other international data.
The balance of evidence. The four evidential strands sought to balance opinion-seeking with empirical data; non-interactive expressions of opinion with face-to-face discussion; official data with independent research; and material from England with that from other parts of the UK and from international sources. This enquiry, unlike some of its predecessors, looked outwards from primary schools to the wider society, and made full but judicious use of international data and ideas from other countries.
THE FINAL REPORT. Children, their World, their Education: final report and recommendations of the Cambridge Primary Review, 608 pp, Routledge, 2010. ISBN 978-0-415-54871-7 (pb), 978-0-415-54870-0 (hb). Editor: Robin Alexander. Authorial team: Robin Alexander, Michael Armstrong, Julia Flutter, Linda Hargreaves, Wynne Harlen, David Harrison, Elizabeth-Hartley-Brewer, Ruth Kershner, John MacBeath, Berry Mayall, Stephanie Northen, Gillian Pugh, Colin Richards and David Utting. Order a copy here. Royalties from the final report are being placed in trust to support the education of some of the country’s most marginalised and disadvantaged children.
COMPANION RESEARCH VOLUME. The Cambridge Primary Review Research Surveys, 850 pp, Routledge, 2010. ISBN 978-0-415-54869-4 (hb only). Editors: Robin Alexander, with Christine Doddington, John Gray, Linda Hargreaves and Ruth Kershner. 66 contributing authors from 21 university departments. Order a copy here.
INTRODUCTORY BOOKLET. Introducing the Cambridge Primary Review, 42pp, October 2009, ISBN 978-1-906478-9. Edited by Diane Hofkins and Stephanie Northen.
FINAL REPORT BRIEFING. The Final Report, October 2009, 4pp. The bare essentials.
POLICY PRIORITIES BRIEFING. After the Election: policy priorities for primary education, April 2010, 4pp. This lists the eleven policy priorities for primary education arising from the final report and subsequent dissemination events. It was presented to government and opposition parties just before the 2010 general election. Download at www.primaryreview.org.uk/publications/synoptic_briefings.php
In November 2010, Robin Alexander’s Brian Simon Memorial Lecture (later revised for Forum) assessed post-election progress on the priorities. Download Legacies, Policies and Prospects: one year on from the Cambridge Primary Review here.
CURRICULUM BRIEFING. In 2009, the CPR published a two-volume interim report on the primary curriculum past, present and future to coincide with the interim report of the then government’s Rose Review. This was then revised to appear as chapters 13 and 14 of the fina report. In 2010 the incoming coalition government rejected Rose and launched its own review of the curriculum. The CPR has made substantial contributions to this and its discussion of current curriculum problems, and its proposals for reform, remain relevant and have been welcomed by many teachers. Download the updated curriculum briefing here.
OTHER INTERIM REPORTS AND BRIEFINGS. 31 interim reports were published between October 2007 and February 2009. Those which were not revised for inclusion in the research volume may still be downloaded from the CPR website, as may individual briefings on every report published to date. There are also special briefings on the curriculum and the CPR’s post-election policy priorities, making a current total of 41 CPR briefings. Download here.
MEDIA RELEASES. View and download here.
LECTURES. View and download some of the public lectures that have marked the CPR’s progress here.
The CPR has received extensive media coverage, especially during the period 2007-10 when it was publishing its reports and briefings. Independent media analysis shows that on five of the ten occasions when it released its reports the CPR was top UK news story overall. The CPR has also featured prominently in the international press.
View the CPR’s media archive here.
Cambridge Primary Review Trust
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For further information contact the Trust’s Administrator, Dr Gregory Frame, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Trust’s website http://cprtrust.org.uk