From The Notebook, International Socialism (1st series), No.28, Spring 1967, p.5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Sarah Cox writes: The most important recommendation of the Plowden Report (Children and their Primary Schools, HMSO), is for the designation of Educational Priority Areas where there is a preponderance of economically and socially deprived children, and where 'positive discrimination' should be practised in terms of money for school buildings and equipment, of class sizes and the employment of ancillary staff. It has long been clear that the middle class benefit far more than the working class from the provisions of the Welfare State and this is the first official attempt to right the balance. As such it establishes a principle to be welcomed. If proposals had been made for positive discrimination in services for adults there would have been an uproar, but because children cannot be held responsible for their own poverty, there is some hope that these proposals will be heeded; but there will be attempts to pay for them by jiggery pokery with the Education budget: by putting up the price of school dinners or charging for milk, and penalising those children it is intended to help. There will also be those inside the National Union of Teachers (NUT) who will oppose the payment of an extra £120 a year to teachers in priority schools although it is obvious that socially handicapped children require special education just as much as physically or mentally handicapped children. However extra payments on top of an inadequate basic wage will do nothing to remedy deficiencies of staffing.
To teachers, the greatest value and interest of the Report is in its overall imaginative and progressive attitude to children, to teaching, to the involvement of parents in the school and to the running of Primary schools. Robbins was written as an economists' report, concerned with increasing the number of technocrats available to run the New Britain. Newsom and Plowden are written by people who are involved in education and interested in extending the best that is happening in any schools to all of them. The Plowden Report contains the most compendious textbook available on all aspects of Primary Education. It recommends flexibility in entry to school with children starting part-time, a few at a time, and with their mothers staying at school until they settle — already common practice in nursery schools and classes. They recommend an extension of nursery provision in accordance with the 1944 Education act. They want to see an extension of individual and discovery methods of teaching and an end to streaming, and they ask for the banning of corporal punishment in Primary schools. In this they will be up against the immense and treacly forces of reaction and inertia inside and outside the teaching profession.
Local Authorities have been waiting for Plowden's recommendations on the age at which children should start school and move from one school to another, though with plans for comprehensive reorganisation approved in most cases, it is difficult to tell whether Plowden will be implemented. It recommends that all children should start school in the September after their fifth birthday, but that places in Nursery centres should be available for at least a year before that. After three years in the first school, children should go at eight to a middle school and to secondary schools at twelve. There are strong educational and psychological arguments for these ages, but there are two dangers — first, that the later age of entry to school (children now usually start at the beginning of the term before their fifth birthdays) will be adopted without first providing the nursery places, and second, that children of eleven will stay in primary schools in classes of forty instead of going to classes of thirty in secondary schools. These are not the Committee's intentions, but there are local authorities and Treasury officials less pure in their motives than the members of the Central Advisory Council on Education, anxious to economise wherever they can and to justify their parsimony by reference to the report. By and large the proposals are neither very revolutionary nor very expensive, but in para 1230 the report says: 'What we propose does not go beyond what is needed to provide a perfectly ordinary, well staffed school. Yet in the present difficult economic circumstances it is not a programme capable of being carried out in the next five years.' This surely bears witness to the neglect and stagnation in the sector of education which is most important to children but which cannot be shown to give economic returns.
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