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Children and their Primary Schools: The Plowden Report 1967

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1 Children and their Primary Schools: The Plowden Report 1967
At the heart of the educational process lies the child. No advances in policy, no acquisitions of new equipment have their desired effect unless they are in harmony with the nature of the child, unless they are fundamentally acceptable to him. (CACE ,1967; p. 7)

2 Last Week The Plowden Report Last week we:
Had an overview of the history of progressive education Explored the ideology of progressivism in early years and secondary education Introduced the relationship between primary and secondary education The Plowden Report

3 Session Aims  To reflect at this half way stage on the links between the 1944 and 1988 Act  To consider how the ideology of progressivism was articulated in the Plowden report   To explore the effect of Plowden on the provision of primary education

4 Initial questions Remembering the progressive principles we discussed last week, what you think Rousseau, Dewey or Pestalozzi might have thought about: The 11+ exam? The effect on primary school teaching this might have? The division of labour in the tripartite system, despite the supposed ‘parity of esteem’? The 1944 Act? The 44 Act when considering questions of equality? The 44 Act when considering child-centredness?

5 Introduction Sir Edward Boyle, Secretary of State for Education called for an enquiry in 1963 into the state of primary education.  Remember that the primary / secondary divide had only been in existence for 20 years following the 44 Education Act and that the tripartite system and the 11+ had effectively hijacked the last two years of Primary school in preparing for the exam. ‘When the selection process finally collapsed under the weight of egalitarian sentiment, the major obstacle to the liberalisation of the primary curriculum was removed. What we may call the Plowdenisation of primary education is thus closely linked to the development of comprehensive secondary schools.’ (Darling, 1994; pp. 51-2)

6 Central Advisory Council for Education (England) (CACE)
Its terms of reference were to ‘consider primary education in all its aspects, and the transition to secondary education’. The Committee of Enquiry comprised a selection of academics, inspectors and practitioners, and was chaired by Lady Plowden. They spent three years observing and discussing primary education for the purpose of identifying and disseminating ‘good practice’ and recommendations for further improvements to primary provision. Significantly, this three year period of deliberation meant that the findings of the Committee coincided with the publication of Circular 10/65, which set out the Secretary of State for Education’s plans for the introduction of comprehensive secondary education.

7 Plowden’s endorsement of good practice
In both its title and opening words the Plowden Report declared its child- centred philosophy, which its authors believed was synonymous with ‘good' primary practice. Thus the Report serves as both a description and endorsement of child-centred approaches to the education of young children. The Committee’s justification for this standpoint was that they believed child-centred approaches were the most effective means of achieving the aim of responding to the individual needs of pupils that had first been aired in the Hadow Reports, but had (the Committee believed) been undermined by the particular educational practices that resulted from the Education Act. The Report presented its interpretation of ‘good’ primary practice to respond to popular concerns that primary education had no clearly articulated or shared philosophy, and was consequently being adversely ‘overshadowed’ by debates about secondary education. ‘In the past many primary schools have ‘worked’ to the 11+. If it has not been their Bible, it has often been a taskmaster. It sets up minimum standards for the abler children, often in our view the wrong ones, and distorting in their efforts on the curriculum. But at least they were standards. The teachers and parents had some yardstick by which to measure their pupils’ work. Now it is going, how are they to know what to expect of children? These are among the problems we discuss.’ (CACE, 1967: p. 2)

8 Progressivism and Child-Centredness
Plowden focussed on the initiatives by classroom teachers to address this issue through their promotion of ‘child-centred’ or ‘progressive’ ideals in primary education. ‘Is there any genuine conflict between education based on children as they are, and education thought of primarily as a preparation for the future? Has ‘finding out’ proved better that ‘being told’? Have methods been worked out through which discovery can be stimulated and guided, and children develop from it a coherent body of knowledge? …Do children learn more through active co-operation than by passive obedience?’ (CACE ,1967; p. 2) Committee members were, as a result of their discussions and investigations, convinced of the educational value of a more progressive approach to education, which is evident in their promotion of two inter- related themes that underpin the whole Report. 1.  Issues of equality and social justice in education, and in particular, the function of primary education as an ‘inoculation’ against future disadvantage 2. Need for primary education to be child-centred, and informed by child developmental theory

9 ‘Compensatory’ Education
Darling (1994) comments that the Plowden Report represents the growing acknowledgement by the educational policy makers of the 1960s that if the educational system was to make a significant contribution to the emergence of a fairer and more equal this change would necessarily have to start with young children. It is clear from the main body of the Report that the Plowden Committee believed that such inequalities must be addressed in the primary sector of education. The potential for primary education to establish a relationship between home and school, and in particular to ’compensated’ for what were perceived to be the cultural deficiencies of working class homes became the focus for educational debate in the 1960s, and was a central theme of the Plowden Report in 1967. Change of emphasis: Primary education was seen, not just as preparation for secondary school but of value in and for itself.  Nursery schooling As the value of ‘early intervention’ was recognised so there was an increased demand for nursery provision.   Research indicated that the earlier a ‘compensatory’ education was introduced the greater its impact on the child’s subsequent educational experiences and attainments. However, they concluded: ‘Nursery education on a large scale remains an unfulfilled promise’. (CACE, 1967; para. 291) The Plowden Committee believed strongly that educational provision should positively intervene against disadvantage, asserting that ‘There is a wide measure of agreement among informed observers that nursery provision on a substantial scale is desirable, not only on educational grounds, but also for social, health and welfare considerations. The case, we believe, is a strong one.’ (CACE, 1967; para. 296)

10 Child-Centred Education
The members of the Plowden Committee were quite clear that the most successful form of primary education was one that was child-centred. They recognised that the primary school was an important stage in a child’s education in its own right - not merely a preparation for secondary education, and that the individual child’s experience (rather than the curriculum, the group, or the needs of society) should be the teacher’s central concern. We can identify four main themes in Plowden’s recommendations.

11 1. Cognitive Development
The Report asserts that ‘the primary school is a community in which children learn to live first and foremost as children and not as future adults’ (CACE, 1967; para. 505) Therefore teachers should base their practice on knowledge of child development and psychology. Part Two of the Report is titled 'The Growth of the Child’, and presents an overview of the contemporary literature about young children’s development and learning. In order to accommodate the needs of the ‘whole’ child, the primary curriculum should blur the boundaries between conventional school ‘subjects,and respond to the particular needs of individual learners.

12 2.     Holistic learning The Plowden Report took seriously the responsibility of primary educators to develop communities in which children live first and foremost as children, and not as ‘pre-secondary school pupils’ or ‘future adults’. It interpreted this responsibility as the requirement for teachers to understand the common characteristics of primary-age children, and to be skilled in their ability to ‘match’ their teaching content and style to these young children interests, needs and abilities. To achieve this there should be less emphasis on what the child learnt than how s/he learned and developed a questioning frame of mind. The Report also subscribed to popular viewpoint, that ‘knowledge does not fall into neatly separate compartments’ (CACE, 1967; p. 187), it argued that a meaningful education for the young child would be one that reflected his/her interests and concerns (however wide-ranging or eclectic these may be) rather than one devised and then arbitrarily divided into ‘subjects’ to be presented to the child in a pre-ordained manner and sequence by the teacher. This was referred to as the ’integrated’ curriculum . The Plowden Committee believed this reflected more accurately the inter-relations between different forms of knowledge that are found in everyday life.

13 3.Active Learning This reflects the child-centred viewpoint that young children learn best when they pursue self-initiated activities intended to answer the questions they wish to ask about the world about them. In the Plowden Report this is usually referred to as ‘discovery’ learning. The sense of personal discovery influences the intensity of a child’s experience, the vividness of his memory and the probability of effective transfer of learning. (CACE, 1967; para 549) The Report proposes that, in contrast to traditional teaching strategies which simply transfer information from the teacher to the pupil, an approach that respects, and is led by the pupil’s actions, has greater educational value because it engages children’s interests more effectively and teaches them to ‘learn how to learn’ (CACE, 1967; para 529).

14 4. Individual Differences
The Report also argues that a discovery approach within an integrated curriculum allows teachers to respond appropriately to the reality that any class consists of a group of individuals with differing needs and rates of learning. This clearly cannot be achieved by teachers using traditional ‘chalk and talk’ approaches. The suggestions it presents to achieve this aim are: greater use of group work to encourage collaboration between pupils with differing areas of interest and ability  the organisation of the curriculum into topics, where children are able to pursue issues and themes that are of particular interest to them. The Report was not against ability grouping in this context, which it interpreted as an ‘efficient’ means of responding to differing levels of ability within class groupings. However, this ability grouping was intended to be activity-specific and the Report was not in favour of wholesale ‘streaming’ of children in the primary school.

15 Conclusions The Plowden Report was a landmark between the 1944 and Education Acts because it both publicised and legitimised educational practitioners’ discontent with the way that the Act had been interpreted. Although its focus was on primary education, much of its rhetoric about the purpose of education and its relation to wider society, and in particular, the need to respond appropriately to each individual pupil’s interests, needs and abilities was and is relevant to all sectors of education. However, despite being received with great enthusiasm by the majority of primary teachers (and many secondary teachers who were in sympathy with progressive ideals), the Plowden Report was the catalyst for a period of intense, and often highly confrontational debate about the purpose and nature of compulsory education in England and Wales. This debate culminated in the 1988 Education Reform Act, which was a wholesale rejection of the educational philosophy expressed by the Plowden Committee and their supporters.

16 Further reading and references
Central Advisory Council for Education (1967) Children and their Primary Schools London: HMSO Courthope Bowen, H. (1989) ‘The Kindergarten – the general nature of its processes – gifts and occupations’ Froebel and Education by Self-Activity London: William Heinemann Darling, J. (1994) Child-Centred Education and its Critics London: Paul Chapman De Guimps, R. (1900) Pestalozzi. His Life and his Work London: Swan Sonnenschein pp Dearden, R. (1987) ‘The Plowden Philosophy in Retrospect’ in Lowe, R. (ed) (1987) The Changing Primary School London: Falmer For links to an independent schools website and further details about progressive schools in the UK see: Kogan, M. (1987) ‘The Plowden Report twenty years on’ Oxford Review of Education 13 (1) pp Liebschner, J. (1991) Foundations of Progressive Education: the history of the National Froebel Society Lutterworth: Cambridge. Plowden, B. (1977) ‘Recurring Themes’ Education (2) pp Rousseau, J-J. (1993) Emile London: Dent Russell, D. (1981) The Tamarisk Tree, vol.2. My School and the Years of War London: Virago.

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