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What should Plowden investigate today?

Leading educational figures give their opinions. Interviews by Lucy Hodges. David Hart, general secretary, National Association of Head Teachers

"The primary sector is in dire need of looking at I A survey would tell us about the match between the expertise necessary to deliver the primary curriculum and the expertise that is available. If Plowden were recreated, it should investigate the ability of infant schools to deliver the basics and what impediments there are in the way of delivering those basics. But it should also look at key stage 2. Unless there is an emphatic shove behind the needs of junior classes, they could find themselves increasingly in limbo with no government willing to give them the support they need."

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers

"One of the critical things to investigate is the relationship between class size and pupil achievement. It should also look at the various approaches to teaching literacy and numeracy which don't rely on a formula but on creative development at school level. This would prevent the reinvention of the wheel in schools and education authorities. It's important that another Plowden is not Anglocentric but that it draws comparisons between pupil achievement worldwide. That has not been done at primary level. The work done by Professor Reynolds of Newcastle University is interesting but barely scratches the surface on international good practice. Finally, we need to look at encouraging bilateral links between schools in the United Kingdom and the European Community. That is being done by the Socrates programme, but not many people know about it. "

David Winkley, head of Grove primary school in Handsworth, Birmingham

"The issue we have got to look at is whether we're concerned about inequalities in children's experience in the classroom. There's still an enormous disparity between the best and the worst. Politically, the line has been to take a punitive view, using curriculum directives and inspectors' reports. But all the evidence is that if you want to move a system forward, especially one that depends on professional involvement, you have got to get inside the heads of the teachers. We need to draw together all the best practitioners. We're a very disparate profession with few opportunities for teachers to get out of the classroom."

Margaret Morrissey, chairman of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations

"I would look at a new law which would officially involve parents from the day their children start school. They would know what their role was and how often they were expected to attend. That would do away with the situation we have now, where schools say they want to work with parents but can't find any to help, and where parents complain they want to work in schools but the schools aren't keen."

Mary Jane Drummond, Cambridge University, Institute of Education

"A new Plowden committee should look at what we've learnt about children's learning in the last 30 years. We need to reinstate the notion of children as powerful learners, able to think, reason and imagine, as well as able to remember. What we have now is a concept of children as immature and ignorant people who have to be taught a great deal of knowledge. What has been abandoned is the notion of children as powerful in their own right. We know that some things come easily to young children, for example, their ability to learn two languages under the age of five.

Christine Pascal, Worcester College of Higher Education

"We should look at what makes a good teacher and what makes for good learning. I want to get to grips with what makes for a fantastic education or a dismal one. We must be rigorous about it. We have not given enough attention to the subject in recent years because the focus has been on inputs and outcomes and the process is lost. The inputs and outcomes are an essential part of what happens but the process is the connective tissue between them."

Ted Wragg, professor of education, Exeter University

"I would go for a broader rather than a narrower survey I We now have a national curriculum with its stages and targets and we need to know how logical that approach is and appropriate the curriculum targets are. I would look at simplifying key stage 1 and getting it down to six major areas. I would go for literacy, numeracy, the world about us, arts, how the world works, and look at whether kids should do a modern language in primary school I Teaching strategies should be the second major focus to enable us to get away from the rubbish that is talked about traditionalists versus progressives."

Bill Laar, educational consultant

"Any consideration of primary education for the next decade must be based on a review of socio-economic circumstances and the critical changes that have taken place since 1967. These include the increasing breakdown of family life, our increasing failure to eradicate poverty, and the emergence of an underclass. A new Plowden would need to investigate ways of controlling the pronounced inequity in learning opportunities between pupils in particular areas and schools. I believe there is sufficient evidence for us to be alarmed about the emergence of disadvantaged schools which have underprivileged intakes and significant special educational needs, and find it difficult to attract heads and to recruit and retain staff. Without radical action the children who use them will continue to suffer."

Peter Coles, chief education officerfor Hampshire

"We don't need a new Plowden as primary education is not in a disastrous state. There's important work going on which might be delayed if people believed the whole thing was going to be rethought."

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