on 12 June 2012
The author, a senior lecturer in the University of East Anglia, has written a remarkable book. The innocuous sounding title disguises the dynamite within.
In gentle prose Sue Cox rejects SATs, Ofsted, league tables and the transmission of knowledge requirements of the National Curriculum. These are described as the instruments of a `performative goal-oriented' approach to schooling, demanded by recent governments, which is alien to what many teachers, philosophers and researchers of the last forty years have realised children in primary schools need.
Sue Cox argues persuasively for schools to be reflective communities where teachers and children work collaboratively. This is how she expresses it:
* The child exercises agency in constructing meanings and coming to know, and this occurs in collaborative activities with their teachers: the adults provide the necessary cultural tools to support the activities.
* The collaboration entails the teacher fostering the children's enquiring frame of mind and developing the same in themselves.
* Teachers' decisions on how to act are made on the basis of a broad knowledge of possibilities: (a) of how to construct and make possible as yet unpredicted purposes and (b) of how to use cultural tools and resources in realising them.
* Likewise teachers' decisions about how to interact with children, how to construct a curriculum, and how to assess learning, are made in the context of a classroom and school community where adults and children participate in different ways in a climate of equal respect for their contributions.
* Every child and every educator engages in classroom activities because they have meaning and purpose in their lives, as people.
Cox discusses education in terms which are close to the heart of many primary school teachers, but which are pushed aside by the authoritarian requirements made over the last twenty years by governments of left and right. When we eventually get a government that sweeps away the existing uneducational demands on schools, what will happen? This book provides important answers. It will be a steep learning curve for teachers who have known no other classroom regime. But the gain for our children will be tremendous as their schools give them a powerful start on the road of worthwhile lives.
Michael Bassey (Emeritus professor of Education, Nottingham Trent University)
on 2 January 2012
After so many years of national requirements often with no research legitimacy it is time for profession to re-engage with academic research. Sue Cox ably takes up the cause on behalf of all serious educationalists with this book.
Sue Cox has a talent for drawing together educational research and theory with classroom practice making this book both very readable and very informative for researchers and teachers alike. It offers both insights that inform current and future practice
The style, which summarizes each chapter at the start of and asks questions of practitioners at the end, not only invites readers to reflect on their practice in the light of current research but also encourages collaborative reflection.
I recommend it wholeheartedly to all teachers and schools with the ambition to take advantage of the current opportunities. I recommend it to heads to use as the basis of your CPD, as I am in my school, and so regain your school's agenda through directly engaging with research.
Bure Valley School, Aylsham, Norfolk.
on 20 December 2011
'New Perspectives in Primary Education' by Sue Cox has been written by someone who understands primary education and the complex world in which we live and work. It is informed, intelligent, thoughtful, provocative AND easy to read: what more could one ask for?
on 22 January 2013
Sue Cox believes passionately in an approach to teaching that acknowledges children as full participants in the social practices of the classroom and as meaning makers in their own right. She makes a strong case - underpinned by socio-cultural theory and supported by a broad range of evidence - that explicates what this could mean in practice. Cox shows, for example, how assessment for learning (AfL) can be genuinely participative and how children's own agendas can be used as a way into engaging them with valued cultural discourses such as history or science.
The book is a hopeful and timely plea to teachers to assert themselves as change agents in primary schools. Interestingly, however, citing Galton (2007) and others, Cox points to the persistence over many years of routine classroom practices (e.g. teachers' habitual use of the IRF questioning formula) that combine to disempower children. Whilst such practices have been reinforced by recent neo-liberal policy agendas, their origins lie in the institution of school itself and the enculturation of generations of teachers. Obviously the responsibility for transforming primary education cannot be laid solely at the door of the teaching profession whose powers are limited. Cox is nonetheless correct to imply that even if schools were freed from the current constraints of high stakes testing and a draconian inspection regime such a transformation would still require the commitment of teachers to development their own "new perspectives".
I recommend this book to teachers and school leaders who are seriously interested in developing a principled approach to curriculum and school development. The chapters on curriculum and assessment are particularly relevant now (at the time of writing) in anticipation of the new National Curriculum which, unlike the one Cox quotes from, will probably not legislate for children to be given opportunities to define their own questions for investigation. Arguably it is now more important than ever for teachers to be prepared to reflect on how their children learn in the broadest sense of what this means. Furthermore, with a curriculum defined in terms of essential bits of established `knowledge', that fails to credit children with the capacity to participate in the culture's valued discourses, it is now more important than ever that teachers are capable of reclaiming that `knowledge' through meaningful processes of co-construction with their pupils. Sue Cox's book provides useful insights for those who are prepared to address these challenges.
Having said this, there are a couple of things worth noting that the book does not do. First, Cox grounds her argument (e.g. her claims about knowledge) in "social constructivism" but does not attempt to address recent challenges to this "philosophy", which like her draw heavily on Vygotsky (e.g. Young 2008, Bakhurst 2011). Second, although she acknowledges the enormous difficulties that some children in particular have, in making sense of the peculiar discourses of the classroom (e.g. children living in poverty), she does not address issues of inequality head-on, or the possible role that schooling has in its reproduction. Cox might be correct to assume, as presumably she does, that ALL children would benefit from a participatory approach; however, exactly how this might work out in England's richly diverse classrooms, remains an open question.
Alan Pagden (Canterbury Christchurch University)
on 21 November 2012
Sue Cox, `New Perspectives in Primary Education: meaning and purpose in learning and teaching' (2011, Open University Press)
The author's determination for children and their teachers to have more ownership over learning and teaching comes across in every page of this book. It is informed by her underlying position that `education is best served by investigating and working with educational principles and values rather than by responding to imposed expectations of compliance and performance' (Cox, 2011: 18). This strongly argued analysis of primary education in the UK today stands out from other accounts based only on policy rhetoric or personal anecdotes. Sue Cox combines the detailed insights from her experience as a teacher educator and researcher over several decades to interrogate current policy and practice in the light of wide-ranging research evidence.
The book may appeal to readers in different ways. It can provide an accessible entry point to pedagogical debates within primary education, putting socio-cultural theorists, including Bruner and Vygotsky, centre stage and encouraging teachers to use theory to reflect on current practice. The book is also infused with the voices of children and teachers, as the author draws on original data from her research with children and teachers in UK primary schools to explore what learning and teaching really means to them. By framing her arguments throughout in terms of education as social practice, Sue Cox constructs a new and powerful lens for analysing, and hopefully initiating change in the direction of primary education today.