HMI Primary Survey (1978)

Primary Survey (text)

Primary education in England
A survey by HM Inspectors of Schools (1978)

London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1978
Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland.

Background notes

Historical context

The 1967 Plowden Report Children and their Primary Schools recommended (in chapter 30, page 426, para. 1164) that surveys of the quality of primary schools should be conducted at least once every ten years.

In response, between 1978 and 1985 HMI produced five surveys covering the whole school age range:

1978 Primary education in England
1979 Aspects of secondary education in England
1982 Education 5 to 9
1983 9-13 Middle Schools
1985 Education 8 to 12 in Combined and Middle Schools

The primary survey is an account of some aspects of the work of 7, 9 and 11 year old children in 1,127 classes in 542 schools chosen to be representative of primary schools in England. It gives information about the organisation of schools, the range of work done by the children, and the extent to which the work is matched to their abilities. It also includes an analysis of the scores obtained by children in objective tests administered by the National Foundation for Educational Research.

Summary of the survey's conclusions

  • failure to provide work of a suitable level of difficulty results in inattentiveness and low scores in objective tests;
  • with falling rolls, some separate infant and junior schools may need to be combined;
  • those who find learning to read difficult are more likely to be given work suitably matched to their abilities than children who are more able readers;
  • the results of surveys conducted since 1955 are consistent with gradually improving reading standards of 11 year olds;
  • in mathematics, individual assignments should not be allowed to replace all group or class work;
  • the teaching of skills in isolation, whether in language or in mathematics, does not produce the best results;
  • there is no evidence in the survey to suggest that a narrower curriculum enabled children to do better in the basic skills;
  • the more able children within a class were the least likely to be doing work that was sufficiently challenging;
  • children in inner city schools are more likely than others to be underestimated by their teachers and least likely to be given work which extends their capabilities;
  • teachers holding posts of responsibility require time to perform their duties, some of which must be carried out while the school is in session;
  • differences in class sizes in classes of between about 25 and about 35 children made no difference to the children's scores on the NFER objective tests;
  • small schools may need to work together to provide the necessary specialist knowledge in all parts of the curriculum;
  • all primary school teachers should be trained to teach children to read, write and do mathematics;
  • they should be knowledgeable in what they teach;
  • they should be able to assess the performance of their pupils in terms of what they next need to be taught;
  • initial and in-service training should help teachers to assess children's capabilities and to establish a sufficiently high, but reasonable, expectation of what the children are capable of achieving;
  • teachers need to become familiar with a range of teaching techniques, to understand the advantages and disadvantages that each has, and to choose what is best for their immediate purpose;
  • it is important to make full use of teachers' strengths and to build on the existing knowledge of individual teachers without losing the advantages that are associated with the class teacher system.

The survey online

The full text of the survey is presented in a single web page, except for Annex A (the Survey documents, pages 174-205) which is in a separate image-only pdf file.

The tables (some of which are shown as images) are embedded in the text where they were in the printed version.

The survey contains complicated statistical formulae and mathematical symbols beyond my ability to render in HTML so they are shown as images.

Anything added by way of explanation is shown [in square brackets].

The above notes were prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 4 June 2006; they were revised on 6 November 2012.