Plowden for internet age

24th September 2004 at 01:00
The famous report of 1967 is passe, right? Apparently not, and such is the demand for it that an ex-head has decided to put it on the web

All you primary nerds out there - and I'm assuming there are quite a few - will be fascinated to know that a dedicated and perhaps slightly fanatic retired head is putting the Plowden report on the internet.

For those who are not versed in primary education legend, the report of the group chaired by Lady Plowden which was published by the Government in 1967, was the last major study into the education of young children undertaken in this country. Children and their primary schools, produced by the Central Advisory Council for Education (England), was open-minded, wide-ranging and vastly influential.

It took in not only the organisation and curriculum of schools, but child development, child poverty, parent participation, pre-school issues, the children of immigrants, gifted children, children with special needs in mainstream schools, rural education, teacher training and health and social services.

The 1960s were not such a different universe after all - and the report still has meaning today. This compassionate document most famously states:

"At the heart of the educational process lies the child" and concludes that finding out is more effective than being told. For this emphasis on what became known as "child-centred learning", the redoubtable Lady Plowden was vilified in the right-wing press and sanctified by progressives. Plowden also sought to help repair social inequality by establishing educational priority areas (an idea whose time has finally come with government programmes such as education action zones and Excellence in Cities).

Trevor Kerry, emeritus professor at the University of Lincoln says one of the key Plowden principles which is being rediscovered is that knowledge doesn't come in compartments. The national curriculum, he says, turned children's learning into a syllabus with assessment rather than a curriculum. But within the past few years, many primary schools have been turning again to an integrated approach.

Plowden, the bible of a generation of teachers who are now around retirement age, has long been out of print, and the number of copies in existence is dwindling.

But Derek Gillard (the dedicated ex-head) reports that an article on his website which he wrote 17 years ago, titled, "Plowden and the primary curriculum 20 years on", has had 9,000 hits in three years. His decision to put the report online came in the wake of numerous emails, often from student teachers, some from overseas, asking where they can find a copy of Plowden and what it says about various issues.

For Mr Gillard, it is a labour of love. He feels a personal as well as a professional interest in the report, as the committee visited the first school where he was a teacher - Bampton CE junior mixed and infants in Oxfordshire. "Earlier this year, I had several emails in a row and I thought - this is a report that ought to be online," he explains. He contacted Her Majesty's Stationery Office, confirmed that no other electronic version existed, and had a licence within a few days.

In July, he began to type in the 500-plus page report, with the help of a former teaching colleague. "She typed four or five chapters. Then she said, why aren't we scanning this? So I went out and bought a scanner."

By the time you read this, the first half of the report will be on Derek Gillard's website, and he expects the rest to be up by Christmas.

"Plowden is an extraordinarily humane document," he says. "Throughout it has this core concern for the child, particularly less privileged children.

It contrasts so much with what's happened in the past 10 years or so.

Everything is tests and targets. It has a message that still needs to be heard today - that this is about people."

Derek Gillard's website is

What it did

* advocated learning through experience

* emphasised the role of parents

* called for systematic nursery education

* opposed caning

* called for educational priority areas with extra funding and staff for schools in socially-deprived areas


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