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The Cambridge Primary Review (CPR) was an independent enquiry into the condition and future of primary education in England, funded from 2006-2012 by the Esmée Fairburn Foundation and based at Cambridge University Faculty of Education. It was officially launched in October 2006, following two years of planning and consultation. The main review was carried out between October 2007 and February 2009, and the final report, was published in October 2009.
As set out in its remit, the review sought to identify ‘the purposes to which the primary phase of education should serve, the values which it should espouse, the curriculum and learning environment which it should provide, and the conditions which are necessary in order to ensure both that these are of the highest and most consistent quality possible, and that they address the needs of children and society over the coming decades.’ It represented the first detailed investigation of English primary education since the Plowden enquiry of 1963-1967, and the most comprehensive such enquiry ever undertaken.
The review was initiated and directed by Professor Robin Alexander of Cambridge University, steered by an Advisory Committee and a Management Group, and undertaken by a Cambridge-based team supported by 66 academic consultants in 20 other universities
The evidence which formed the basis of the final report was collated from four different ‘strands’ - submissions, soundings, research surveys, and searches - each of which was brought to bear on the review’s ten themes: purposes and values; learning and teaching; curriculum and assessment; quality and standards; diversity and inclusion; settings and professionals; parenting, caring and educating; children’s lives beyond the school; structures and phases; and funding and governance.
The review started by inviting written and email submissions from stakeholding organisations - government, opposition, non-departmental public bodies, unions, professional associations, local authorities and many others - and from any individual who wished to contribute. At the same time it commissioned, on the basis of competitive bidding and peer review, 29 surveys of published research relating to the ten themes from academic experts in the fields concerned. It then launched its programme of ‘community soundings ‘ - 87 focus groups sessions with teachers, parents, children and community representatives in nine regional locations - and these were followed by the ‘national soundings’ which were more formal meetings with national organisations and policy makers, including government, statutory agencies, public bodies, unions, teachers and non-statutory organisations. In all, over 250 such meetings were held.
The commissioned research surveys were carried out between 2006 and 2008 and between them interrogated over 3000 published sources. Over the same period searches of official national and international data were also made, with the co-operation of the relevant government departments and other official bodies, in order to provide the necessary legal, demographic, financial and statistical data to support the review’s findings and provide an essential counterpoint to the expressions of opinion emerging from the submissions and soundings.
The Cambridge Primary Review began publishing its findings in October 2007 and by February 2009 it had produced 31 interim reports and 40 briefings, together with media releases and newspaper articles. The final report which followed in October 2009, Children, their World, their Education (Routledge) was accompanied by an 850-page companion research volume, The Cambridge Primary Review Research Surveys. There followed a series of dissemination events and the launch, in 2010, of the CPR’s National Primary Network to support local authorities, schools and teachers who wished to explore and build on the review’s findings.
The review attracted widespread media attention. On each of the ten occasions when it published its reports - the interim reports were published in thematic groups - media coverage was extensive, and on five of those occasions the review was the top UK news story overall. The archive has captured a large proportion of this coverage.
In 2012 the Cambridge Primary Review Trust (CPRT) was founded as the successor to the Cambridge Primary Review. CPRT is a not-for-profit company which was supported from 2013-16 by Pearson UK and chaired by Professor Alexander. It aims to extend and build upon the evidence collated by the review and advance the cause of high quality primary education for all children. It is based at the University of York and in addition to national programmes of research and policy engagement has thirteen regional networks and expanding alliance of schools committed to applying CPR/CPRT ideals and evidence in their daily work.
The significance of the Cambridge Primary Review and Cambridge Primary Review Trust was reflected in its receipt of a number of prestigious awards: the AMiE Award for Services to Education (2010), the NUT Jarvis Award for Educational Campaigning (2010), the SES Book Awards First Prize for Children, their World, their Education (2011), and the BERA/SAGE Public Impact Award (2015).
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Robin J. Alexander & Michael Armstrong, eds. 'Children, their word, their education: Final report and recommendations of the Cambridge Primary Review' (Cambridge, 2010).
Cambridge Primary Review Trust website (http://cprtrust.org.uk/)