Primary English 2023: teaching in between constraints to challenge a pedagogy of adherence

Copping, Adrian ORCID logo ORCID: (2023) Primary English 2023: teaching in between constraints to challenge a pedagogy of adherence. In: Teacher Education Advancement Network (TEAN) Annual Conference, 11-12 May 2023, Manchester, UK. (Unpublished)

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Thinking has a significant role to play in teacher education (Huang 2015). A search of academic sources renders the statement obvious. But is it? This reflective enquiry explores some constraints that can drown teacher thinking. As a primary English tutor, I stand in the waves helping students navigate the pressures of Ofsted requirements, published schemes, curriculum coverage, foundational and declarative knowledge, so as not to run aground on the rocks of anxiety. This reflective enquiry looks to apply my doctoral findings around children’s connection-building to a PGCE primary context. What impact do these constraints have on student teachers thinking and connection making between centre-based primary English learning and their subsequent enactment? Curriculum research suggests that high stakes testing plays a significant role in creating these constraints. Polesel, Rice, Dulfer (2014) state that it has distorted practice and narrowed the curriculum. Thompson and Harbaugh (2013) add that teaching has become instructing with children’s motivation to learn sinking as a result. Ofsted’s Research Review into English (2022) provides justification for adherence to instruction, and cognitive science applied in the subject. However McCallum and Bleiman (2022) state that this research is lab, not school-based and omits key aspects such as poetry and non-fiction. Yet grammar instruction takes centre-stage. My reflective enquiry responds by suggesting that adherence to these constraints creates barriers to students making connections in their learning. Ironically, the DfE’s recognises this in relation to children and their learning in the ITT Core Content Framework (2016:14).

Observations of practice, scrutiny of placement targets and informal discussions with a focus group of student teachers took place to gather evidence, alongside my own reflections of discussions in primary English centre-based sessions. Findings suggested a lack of connection building for students between centre-based learning and students enacting in school. Contributing factors included the school environment and the many constraints on student thinking, with schemes and curriculum coverage most prevalent. ‘Follow the scheme‘ was a familiar theme throughout discussion. How therefore can Primary English teams adapt their teaching to navigate students through these constraints, to challenge adherence where needed and apply their thinking to professional judgements about learning? This reflective enquiry presents some possible approaches. Alexander (2010) in his final report of the Cambridge Primary Review called for a ‘pedagogy of evidence and principle not prescription’. Thirteen years later, we still wait.

Alexander, R. (2010) The Cambridge Primary Review and its final report. Available at
Huang, J. (2015) Cultivating Teacher Thinking: Ideas and Practice. Education Research for Policy and Practice. 14. 27-257
McCallum and Bleiman (2022) [online]
Polesel, J. Rice, S. Dulfer, N. (2014) The impact of high stakes testing on curriculum and pedagogy: a teacher perspective from Australia. Journal of Education Policy. 29 (5).
Thompson, G. and Harbaugh, A. (2013) A Preliminary Analysis of Teacher Perceptions of the Effects of NAPLAN on Pedagogy and Curriculum. The Australian Educational Researcher 40 (3): 299–314.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Departments: Institute of Education > Initial Teacher Education
Depositing User: Anna Lupton
Date Deposited: 22 May 2023 12:27
Last Modified: 13 Jan 2024 15:01


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