Plowden (1967)

Volume 1 (The Report)

Volume 2 (Research and Surveys)

Articles about Plowden written in 1987 on the twentieth anniversary of the report's publication.

The Plowden Report (1967)
Children and their Primary Schools

A Report of the Central Advisory Council for Education (England)

London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1967
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 Central Advisory Council for Education (CACE) was established as a result of the 1944 Education Act. It lasted just twenty years - from its first report School and Life, published in 1947, to Plowden, published in 1967.

The 1944 Act required the provision of primary and secondary schools for all children. In the years following the Act, the new primary schools became something of an educational battleground. On the one hand, they were exhorted by many to experiment and innovate in terms of their curriculum and teaching methods. On the other, they were constrained by the pressures of 'eleven plus' selection for secondary schools - grammar schools for the minority who passed, secondary modern schools for the majority who failed. (The 'tripartite' system also called for the provision of technical schools, but few of these were ever opened.)

When it became clear that the selection system was failing most of the nation's children (a fact confirmed by the 1963 Newsom report Half our Future), some local authorities began planning comprehensive systems, with implications for the primary schools.

In August 1963 Conservative Minister of Education Sir Edward Boyle asked CACE 'to consider primary education in all its aspects, and the transition to secondary education'.

Harold Wilson's Labour government came to power in 1964 and renamed the education ministry the Department of Education and Science (DES), so it was Labour Secretary of State Anthony Crosland who received the report in November 1966, and it was published the following year.

By this time, the abolition of the eleven plus in many areas was enabling the primary schools to develop a more informal, child-centred style of education with an emphasis on individualisation and learning by discovery: in short, a 'progressive' style of education, which Plowden largely endorsed. But the trend was not without its critics, and the battle over different styles of primary education would continue for many years, with traditionalists blaming Plowden for what they saw as the failings of primary education.

Bridget Plowden

Bridget Plowden (pictured) was born in 1910. Her father was an admiral, a naval historian and master of Downing College Cambridge. She became a juvenile magistrate and enjoyed charitable work, but she came to public attention when Boyle asked her to chair the CACE enquiry into primary schools.

Later, she became vice-chair of the BBC governors and then chair of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. In her eighties she was still involved with several charities, including the Council for Gypsy and Travellers' Children and the volunteer reading help programme in schools. She died in 2000 at the age of 90.

The Council's 25 members included Michael Young, author of The Rise Of The Meritocracy; Conservative MP Timothy Raison, then editor of New Society; Sir John Newsom, who had chaired CACE for its 1963 report; and Professor CE Gittins, who chaired the Central Advisory Council for Education (Wales) for its enquiry into primary education in Wales. (The translation of this into Welsh occupied four professors for nine months and sold 26 copies). The secretary to the Council was Maurice Kogan.

The report's recommendations

The report listed 197 recommendations which can be found in Chapter 32 of Volume 1.

The report online

The Plowden Report was published in two volumes:

Volume 1: The Report (555 pages) contained the report itself, consisting of 32 chapters, notes of reservation, three annexes, a glossary and an index.

Volume 2: Research and Surveys (633 pages) contained the research and surveys which underpinned the report.

The text of each volume is presented in a single web page, with the 400 tables, 60 diagrams and 46 photographs embedded in the text where they were in the original. Some of the tables are shown as images.

In Volume 2, I have not attempted to reproduce the layout of some of the questionnaires and forms. However, there are examples to show how they were set out in the original.

In Volume 1 the footnotes are numbered. In Volume 2 the symbols used vary from appendix to appendix. In all cases the numbers or symbols shown here are as in the printed version.

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

Articles about Plowden

The following nine articles, all written in 1987 on the twentieth anniversary of Plowden's publication, first appeared in the Oxford Review of Education Volume 13 Number 1 1987 Special Issue: Plowden Twenty Years On.

Plowden: history and prospect
AH Halsey and Kathy Sylva
In this introduction to the special Plowden issue of the Oxford Review of Education Professor Halsey writes about the Central Advisory Councils and their role in education policy making and Kathy Sylva examines the use Plowden made of Piagetian theory.

The Plowden Report Twenty Years on
Maurice Kogan
Kogan considers the membership, terms of reference and assumptions governing the work of the Plowden Committee, evaluates criticisms made since of its proposals and findings and relates the Committee's conclusions to possible change models and to forms of policy analysis that might have been used.

Whatever Happened to Educational Priority Areas?
George Smith
Educational Priority Areas (EPAs) were a key proposal in the Plowden Report - one which received immediate and widespread support. George Smith looks at why the EPA programme faltered in the 1970s and suggests that in the 1980s there was a revival of interest in the role of education in the inner city.

From Condescension to Complexity: post-Plowden schooling in the inner city
David Winkley
Winkley suggests that the Plowden Report underrated the seriousness of race and cultural issues in the inner city, and argues for greater institutional consciousness and a more sophisticated philosophical grasp of cultural and racial meanings.

Changing Perspectives on Teaching-learning Processes in the Post-Plowden Era
Neville Bennett
Bennett considers the theoretical and empirical underpinnings of three approaches to studying teaching-learning processes as a context from which to consider the utility of the model of teaching prescribed in the Plowden Report.

Change and Continuity in the Primary School: the research evidence
Maurice Galton
Galton reviews the findings of the ORACLE project (Observational Research and Classroom Learning Evaluation), carried out between 1975 and 1980, which suggested that the kinds of practice endorsed in the Plowden Report were only partially implemented.

Chinese Whispers
Philip Gammage
Gammage charts some of the actual changes personally observed over the twenty years following the Report and suggests that Plowden's inspirational qualities should not be overlooked.

Aspects of Communication and the Plowden Report
Andrew M Wilkinson
Wilkinson notes that the influence of a document is not confined to what it purports to say. It has sociolinguistic meanings related to its status, power, context, timing and reader receptiveness He argues that in Plowden these meanings were benign.

'Plowden' Twenty Years On
Bridget Plowden
Lady Plowden gives her own account of how it seemed to her that some of the main 'Plowden' recommendations or comments had worked, twenty years on.

Further reading

Obituary of Lady Plowden
by Anne Corbett (The Guardian 3 October 2000).

Obituary of Maurice Kogan
by Anne Corbett (The Guardian 10 January 2007).

Plowden and the primary curriculum: twenty years on
written in 1987, this was my own attempt to assess the impact Plowden had had on primary education in England.

Upload history

Plowden was the first report to be published on Education in England.

The report, the articles, and the above notes were prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded as follows:

  • chapters 1-17 of Volume 1 on 30 August 2004;
  • the rest of Volume 1 on 25 October 2004;
  • the Oxford Review articles on 3 January 2005;
  • Volume 2 (complete) on 19 August 2007.
These notes were revised on 12 November 2012 and again on 26 June 2018.