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Review of Education: Genesis and Significance

So much that is desirable in society depends on the quality of education and training which are provided by schools, colleges, higher education, adult education, employers, independent training providers and ‘third sector’ (voluntary bodies).

For instance, economic success, in a highly competitive world, depends on a skilled, literate and numerate workforce. Furthermore, quality of life depends on the realisation of the wider human capacities to think, to reason, to appreciate and to create – the end-product, one hopes, of a well rounded education. Further still, human well-being depends on a healthy democratic society in which all feel able to participate and to which all are enabled to contribute; citizenship requires the enhancement of social attitudes, dispositions and skills.

Such broad aims of education (economic relevance, human well-being and the enrichment of society) should permeate policy and practice at every level.  

In the last two years several major reports provided comprehensive and independent Reviews of many aspects of education and training in England and Wales ‘from cradle to grave’. If policy and practice are to be based on evidence, which Ministers often affirm, these Reviews are essential reference points. They review a wide range of research relevant to policy and practice. But each Review recognises that such evidence has to be understood in the light of broader and often controversial questions about educational aims – reaching a balance between economic, personal and social well-being. That is where each Review starts.

This Report pulls together these Reviews, pointing, first, to the broad agreement on educational aims, and, second, to the consequences of that agreement for teaching, learning and the provision of education and training. Though arising from Reviews within England and Wales, the principles have resonance across the UK. 

Circumstances and context change; it is impossible to recommend in detail what incoming Ministers should do. But emerging from these Reviews are principles, founded on evidence. We believe these, have enduring value and are offered as a guide to both policy and practice through the inevitable coming and going of Ministers.

The Reviews drawn upon are:

Cambridge Primary Review: 2010, edited by Alexander, R. Children, their World, their Education, London: Routledge (referred to in the text as CPR)
Since the 1970s, primary schools have been the focus of criticism, whether justified or not, for ‘poor standards and suspect ideology’. Hence, as the CPR points out (p.1), there has been a ‘programme of unprecedented investment and direct government intervention yielding £2 billion initiatives in literacy and numeracy, and much more besides’. The CPR was funded in 2006 by Esmee Fairbairn Foundation to evaluate the current state of primary education by combining ‘retrospective evidence with prospective vision’. The final report, based on extensive research, drew together over 30 interim reports.  Its website is can be found at:

Nuffield Review:  2009, Pring, R., Hayward, G., Hodgson, A., Johnson, J., Keep, E., Oancea, A., Rees, G., Spours, K., Wilde, S., Education for All: the Future of Education and Training for 14-19 Year Olds in England and Wales, London: Routledge (referred to as NR).
Much happens at the age of 14 in our schools: choices are made about pathways to be followed; the run-up to GCSE begins; guidance for future careers kicks in; possibilities of college based education are opened up. More radical choices are necessary at 16. In 2003, the Nuffield Foundation funded a major Review of every aspect of 14-19 provision to be led by Richard Pring. The final Report was supported by a wide range of research papers, and these remain available on its website (

Inquiry into the Future of Lifelong Learning: 2009, Schuller, T. and Watson, D., Learning Through Life, London: NIACE (referred to in the text as IFLL)
This Inquiry was set up in 2007 by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, and informed by over 250 evidence submissions. The Report is ‘nested’ in 30 supplementary papers published on Although the primary focus is on adult learning, it emphasises crucial continuity with early childhood and schooling.

Mental Capital and Well Being Report, 2008, Feinstein, L., Vorhaus, J., Sabates, R., Learning through Life: Future Challenges: London: Govt. Office for Science (referred to as MCWB)
The Office for Science’s Foresight Programme advises the Government on how to achieve the best possible mental development for everyone. This Report considered factors which could affect ‘learning through life’ over the next 20 years. The report is on

National Child Development Study, 2008,  Now We are 50: Key findings from the NCDS 2008,  Elliott, J. and Vaitilingam, R. (eds) (referred to as NCDS).
This summarises key findings from the longitudinal study of 17,000 people who have been closely tracked since their birth in 1958. The report provides unique insights into the consequences of education in relation to other experiences through life.  (See publications section of

Teaching and Learning Research Programme, Commentaries: 2006-10 (referred to as TLRP with a number related to a specific report, e.g. TLRP5).
TLRP has been the UK’s largest recent investment in educational research. Directed by Andrew Pollard, it studied issues which would enable improvements in learning within all educational sectors. Such a programme, therefore, overlaps with the different phases of the above reports and fills gaps which division into phases inevitably creates. For the purpose of this review, TLRP’s Commentary output has been drawn on to represent key messages from the overall research programme. TLRP’s documents can be downloaded from The TLRP Commentaries directly referred to in this report to are:

  1. James, M. and Pollard, A. (2006) Improving Teaching and Learning in Schools.
  2. Howard-Jones, P., 2006, Neuroscience and Education: Issues and Opportunities
  3. Hofkins, D. 2007, Principles into Practice: A Teacher’s Guide to Research Evidence on Teaching and Learning
  4. David, M. et al., 2008, Widening Participation in Higher Education
  5. Fuller, A. and Unwin, L., 2008, Towards Expansive Apprenticeships
  6. Nash, I., Jones, S., Ecclestone, K., Brown, A., 2008, Challenge and Change in Further Education
  7. Selwyn, N., 2008, Education 2.0? Designing the Web for Teaching and Learning
  8. Brown, A., 2008, Higher Skills Development at Work
  9. David, M., 2008, Effective Learning and Teaching in UK Higher Education
  10. Brown, P., Lauder, H., Ashton, D., 2008, Education, Globalisation and the Knowledge Economy
  11. Mansell, W. and James, M., 2009, Assessment in Schools: Fit for Purpose?
  12. Pollard, A., 2010, Professionalism and Pedagogy: a Contemporary Opportunity
As will be apparent from the list above, comprehensive, public reviews of early years, of higher education and of workplace learning were not available – and other gaps may also be identified.  We have not attempted to fully address provision in sectors lacking a contemporary, integrated review, though we do make some reference to them when appropriate.  We believe that many of the challenges and principles which we have identified are likely to recur.  When such work has been done, we hope that it may be possible to develop the analysis further.



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