This is CPRT’s last blog before holidays, staff changes and asbestos close its office for the month of August. The asbestos is in the ceiling void of our 1960s building; its removal, we are assured, will be without risk to any of us. The staff change, nothing to do with asbestos, is the departure for Liverpool of our excellent administrator Greg Frame, and his replacement on 1st September by Matt Coward.
So this is a good time to take stock and flag some of our plans for 2015-16. They are nothing if not ambitious.
In the two years since its launch in 2013, the Cambridge Primary Review Trust has established itself as a substantial and distinctive educational presence. Substantial in respect of scale as well as significance; distinctive in the vast and unrivalled corpus of evidence and hard thinking in which its work is grounded. Not just the Cambridge Primary Review of course, but also – because the quest for evidence cannot cease – research undertaken by the Trust itself. Much of this material, from both the Review and the Trust, is readily accessible via the CPRT website, which provides a formidable and essential resource for anybody involved in primary education.
Consider the scale of CPRT’s operation as it stands today. It has thirteen regional networks which, after an admittedly halting start in some cases, are forging ahead with teacher conferences, action research, reading groups and other activities. The once separate CPRT Schools Alliance is firmly dovetailed into this regional structure so that local activities respond to local concerns. The number of such schools is growing and from September that growth will accelerate sharply. Together, the Regional Network Forum (which brings together network co-ordinators and Alliance representatives) and the Board of the Trust have identified a number of strategies for bringing the fruits of these regional activities into the national mainstream and we shall implement them during 2015-16.
So: if you are reading this blog but are not yet involved in CPRT’s regional activities, or if you lead a lively school and value a professional culture of ideas and debate rather than mere compliance, please consider joining us via one of the regional networks and/or the Schools Alliance. To find out more, and to join us, follow the links in the previous paragraph.
Schools, too, are involved in our CPD collaboration with Pearson. So far this has yielded regional curriculum conferences in conjunction with eleven of the subject associations, the much praised handbook Primary Curriculum 2014, and school-based CPD programmes on curriculum audit, children’s voice and assessment without levels. The next stage of the collaboration is now under consideration.
Meanwhile, CPRT has initiated fourteen research projects. Each seeks to address one or more of the Trust’s priorities – equity, voice, community, sustainability, aims, curriculum, pedagogy, assessment. Through specially commissioned research reviews we invite leading experts to assess published evidence bearing on these priorities and identify implications for policy and practice. Three of the resulting reports have already been published, one is in production for launch in September, and a further eight will follow before next March. (See our blog of 3 July for topics, authors and anticipated publication dates).
Then, with help from Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the extensive paper, electronic and media archive of the Cambridge Primary Review has been lodged in the Borthwick Institute awaiting final cataloguing and indexing, at which point it will become available to researchers.
The biggest of our research ventures, the Educational Endowment Foundation (EEF) project on dialogic teaching and social disadvantage, moves in September into its trial phase in schools in Birmingham, Bradford and Leeds after a pilot in London. Initiated by CPRT and led jointly by the Trust and the Institute for Effective Education (IEE) at the University of York, this project is developing and evaluating a professional support programme designed to ensure that classroom talk is of the character and quality which will have a measurable impact on pupils’ engagement and learning and will hence help close the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and the rest. The auspices from related projects both here and in the United States are good, and we hope that the CPRT/IEE project’s findings will finally bury the deplorable perception – against which we campaigned vigorously during the national curriculum review and with some success, but which is still discernible in the DfE programmes of study – that spoken language is somehow incidental to the ‘real’ business of children’s education.
With that precedent in mind, CPRT engages with the policy process whenever and wherever it can, regularly submitting evidence to formal consultations and seeking discussions with policy stakeholders; but also, where necessary – which seems to be rather too often these days – using its blog and other public platforms to expose those ministerial utterances and initiatives that seem to be particularly misguided, or which blatantly privilege ideology and prejudice over evidence and the common good.
All these strands of CPRT’s work will continue during 2015-16, and alongside the publication of a further nine research reports and briefings we anticipate continuing expansion of the regional networks and Schools Alliance. But there will be two further developments.
The first is a series of regional conferences for school leaders on ‘Making our schools research active’. The self-sustaining school system towards which England is supposed to be moving will not be viable without the high-protein sustenance afforded by evidence; evidence not only of the kind generated by large funded initiatives like the CPRT/IEE dialogic teaching project but also that which arises from the efforts of schools themselves, especially when they work in collaboration with other schools and/or with dedicated research providers. Hence, for example, CPRT’s South West Research Schools Network.
So in March 2016 our Leeds and West Yorkshire network will pilot a ‘Making our schools research active’ event which will explore models and cases for sourcing, generating and applying research in situ, making the research consciousness familiar and habitual rather than extraneous or rarefied. This will then be rolled out as a regional roadshow, hosted by each of CPRT’s other networks in turn.
The other initiative for 2015-16 takes advantage of not one anniversary but two. In April 2016 the Trust, supported by Pearson, will have been in busy existence for three years, while October 2016 marks the tenth anniversary of the launch of the Cambridge Primary Review itself. That month, therefore, we hope to hold a major national conference. It will be both retrospective and prospective, and honest as well as celebratory. It will set what CPR and CPRT aimed to achieve against what they have actually achieved, and it will examine areas where they have been less successful and ask why. It will subject national primary education policy, the inescapable and often strident accompaniment to all that we have attempted, to the same degree of critical scrutiny, perhaps testing the proposition that schools succeed in spite of policy, not because of it.
If all this sounds a tad introspective, the conference will also showcase and celebrate what by then will be a substantial body of CPRT-supported work from schools, regional networks and researchers that builds on CPR’s aims and evidence, and it will invite other individuals and organisations to swell the cornucopia with their own ideas and experience. On this basis we hope that we can recover a primary education of relevance, quality, humanity and excitement, rescuing it from the ossified politics of tests, phonics and long division.
We believe that in the coming school year the Cambridge Primary Review Trust will have a great deal to offer. We hope you agree.