England & Wales

Why Ministers won’t play along with the Cambridge Review

The most eye-catching items in the Cambridge Review of the Primary Curriculum are the proposals that children should not start formal learning until they are six and that testing at 11 should be scrapped. It argues that the early imposition of academic strictures results in permanent alienation from learning.

Instead the Cambridge Review argues that the kind of play-based learning featured in nurseries and reception classes should go on for another year. “This would give sufficient time for children to establish positive attitudes to learning and begin to develop the language and study skills which are essential to their later progress”.

Ministers, however, have already dismissed the findings. Schools Minister Vernon Coaker responded with a robust defence of early academic learning and testing in English and Mathematics at 11.

So – despite this heavyweight contribution to the debate which took six years to research – it looks like Ministers will require further persuasion before they drop the belief that only learning that can be measured matters.

This is a shame because the Government had showed signs of recognising that good schools are about so much more than tests. The proposed School Report Card, for instance, will aim to measure the performance of schools across a broader range of outcomes than raw exam results. It should not turn its back on this work.

The Government should instead investagate how school performance metrics can value informal learning. The LGIU will make its contribution to this debate in a paper that will explore how outcome-based accountability could reward secondary schools for providing practical learning that does not necessarily result in a qualification.

As always, your thoughts on this work would be appreciated.