Galton, M., Simon, B.  & Croll, P.  (1980) Inside the Primary Classroom, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

This is about the ORACLE studies (observational research and classroom learning evaluation), funded by the SSRC, with the research taking place between 1975 and 1980.  It is a study of teacher effectiveness.

Quick summary of the findings:

 Chapter one

The aim is to provide descriptions of typical teacher pupil interaction.  Observations took place over a three year period.  Pupils were tested.  A number of volumes of the findings were produced, meaning that the later ones could offer some longitudinal dimension.  The background for the study was partly based on American classroom research, especially Flanders and his observation schedules.  The UK background lay in the criticisms of primary education stemming from publications such as the Black Papers, and various HMI surveys, which had led to a great debate about so called progressive methods.  Bennett’s (1976) study seemed to support traditional approaches.  This research is an attempt to intervene in the debate, using a methodological innovation.  The use of questionnaires had been criticised in Bennett’s work as artificially producing apparently polarised types of teacher (examples of the problems with Bennett pages eight and nine).  Instead, the team thought observation was the right way forward.  Bennett had already discussed the problems of observations, however: they could be atypical and descriptive.  The teams response was to develop systematic techniques which would also rely on pupil records, notes of the context, and a focus on particularly representative activities.

Observation instruments therefore included:

(A)   the pupil record – the classroom activities of one pupil at a time were recorded, especially their interaction with the teacher, other pupils, the activities they pursued as part of their work, and their location.  These matters would be recorded every 25 seconds (the actual use is described pages 14 F).

(B)   A teacher record in terms of types of questions used, and statements made.  The team also recorded silent interaction, such as gestures—details are provided pages 17 F.  The observers were trained and they worked to maximize intercoder reliability by using pairs of coders.

(C)   A summary sheet, also known as an observer record, offering descriptions of the classroom layout and activities going on there, including grouping procedures used by teachers.  The team also asked teachers to complete a short questionnaire based on the Bennett study, obviously permitting some sort of comparability with the Bennett data.

The team also studied a sample of pupils transferring up to the next stage.  They chose pairs of schools with contrasting characteristics, although with similar catchment areas.

Overall, each pupil was observed for a total of 9 ½ minutes per session.  Teachers for 19 minutes per session.  Pupils were also tested in the basic skills, leading to three main groups, in order to get the effects of ability.  58 classrooms were studied, drawn from 19 schools,  300 observations of pupils were made, and 180 of teachers.  In the transfer study, six schools were chosen then 13 others (additional feeders).

Chapter four

On the surface, it looked as if teachers had a lot of involvement with their pupils, but a focus on the pupils shows that the average pupil spends 2/3 classroom time on their own.  Teacher pupil interaction is asymmetrical: only 16% of the time for each pupil is spent interacting with the teacher, and 12% of that 16% is spent interacting in a whole class format.  Actual individual attention occurs only for 2.3% of the pupils classroom time. Most teacher time is spent interacting with individuals, however (71.6% of all interaction) [It is not surprising that pupil, or parental, perception of classroom teaching is likely to be quite different from that of teachers’ perceptions – the former has very little individualised contact,  but teachers seem to spend their time doing very little else].

Not all pupil time was actually spent on task, however – about 3/5 of time was spent mostly on their own or with other pupils.  The rest of the time was spent on things such as routine work, or waiting for the teacher. 

There was no evidence, however, that the amount of individual attention received  varied according to groups of pupils – teacher attention did not seem to be affected by the ability of the pupil nor their gender, except for a very slight tendency to give more attention to boys (65).  Older children were slightly more likely to receive attention.  Class size did seem to have an effect but there was not a high correlation, and even a rather odd finding that larger classes tend to have more individual contact rather than group work.

Nearly all teachers grouped pupils, but not necessarily in stable groups.  For example some used base groups together with different curriculum groups, and sometimes different topical project groups.  Plowden had argued that stable groups by ability were not desirable.  In most cases, groups observed were based more on friendship rather than ability, although some the groups were based on disciplinary purposes.  Even so, the groups would not be flexible enough for Plowden, except those based around topic or project.  More importantly, individuals were a focus for teacher efforts rather than groups, especially as far as tasks were concerned.  Almost 90% of teachers never used group methods in language or maths for example (71).  Plowden’s hope that flexible groups would assist pupil socialization need to be qualified, since most groups were same sex: as a result, 82.6% of pupil to pupil interactions were between pupils of the same sex (75). Thus overall, there seemed to be no real group work with different opinions being expressed (Plowden had hoped that group work like this the would develop pupils’ explanatory skills as well as increasing their socialising ability).

The team tried to examine what pupils actually did in normal sessions, as part of their attempts to acquire deliberately representative observations.  They found that pupils mostly studied maths, language, arts and crafts, and ‘general studies’.  They observed the proportion of time spent on the average in each area, producing a ‘curricular profile’.  It turns out that pupils studied maths for 28.5% of the time, while teachers spent 33.1% of their time on it; pupils studied language for 36.1% of the time, while teachers spent 37.8% of their time on it; arts and crafts and general studies occupied 35.1% of pupil time, and 29% of teacher time.  This fairly traditional pattern is supported by an HMI survey.

In more detail ‘the teachers in our sample do not see their function as including the teaching of reading to all pupils’, and the gross time spent teaching reading diminishes with age, leading to only 9.8% of teacher time devoted to this for those older than 8 years old.  The focus instead was on the reading difficulties experienced by individuals.  Spoken English also gets a low priority,  lower than the Bullock Report suggested.  These findings were checked for sampling error (by comparing them with the other sessions [on other criteria?]) (81).

Overall, the Plowden focus on the enquiring child was not matched by these observations.  There is individualisation, but most of the work is not exploratory and not joint.  There is still a focus on individualised instruction in the basics rather than integrated group project work.  The team points out there is no real theoretical justification for group work in Plowden anyway.

Chapter five

The findings on pupil involvement and the quality of teacher pupil interaction showed that:

(A)   Most teacher pupil interaction was focused on the task, mostly about ‘making statements’ rather than questioning

(B)   Teacher questions tended mostly to be task or task supervision questions, or routine questions.  Only 5% of questioning observed could be coded as ‘open’

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