19 OCTOBER 2016

A University's Challenge

A University's Challenge

'At first glance, this is a book about teaching children in one community in the East of England. But the work undertaken in these classrooms will inform our research, and the ideas that emerge from the school will be shared across the world and will, we hope, help to improve educational oppotunities in many other communities.'

Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz (Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge)

A University’s Challenge: Cambridge’s Primary School for the Nation, was launched at the official opening of the University of Cambridge Primary School (UCPS) on 26 September 2016. One year earlier, the UCPS opened with its initial intake of children. It is a 3-Form Entry school which, when fully enrolled (2020-21), will admit 630 children. It includes a 78-place nursery. The UCPS is one of two university training schools (UTSs) in England, and the sole primary UTS. In addition to primary education for 4-11 year-old children, it will provide initial teacher education placements for PGCE trainees from the University’s Faculty of Education and (in collaboration with the Faculty) will spearhead a research program into student learning improvement, school improvement and the professional learning of teachers, as part of a proposed “national dividend” for English primary schooling.

The UCPS is part of the University’s major new project, the North West Cambridge Development, and is the first completed building on the Development site. A University’s Challenge is an edited book that comprises chapters authored by a number of University and Faculty of Education colleagues, and consultants working on the Development. The book tells the story of the UCPS. In particular, it:

- Provides a narrative of how this school came to be―from its humble beginnings as an idea, then an outline concept, followed by a detailed educational plan with budget projections, admissions estimates, staffing profile and so on―and how all of that planning information fitted into the University’s strategic vision for the North West Cambridge Development

- Outlines what the school is trying to do educationally in its democratic approach to children’s learning and the research foundations that underpin this approach

- Summarizes the school’s educational possibilities and how these might be realized―particularly around the theme of “releasing the imagination”

- Describes the school’s unique circular design and how this design creates an environment for maximizing quality learning for children

- Makes a series of connections: backwards to historical teacher education precedents for schools linked to universities (including Cambridge); contemporaneously, to the example of Finnish university-linked training schools; and, for the future, in respect of this University’s commitment to knowledge and learning, and its plans for itself through the new Development site, and

- Builds a series of links between the UCPS and emerging emphases in teacher education on evidence-based approaches to pedagogy; its potential national impact on primary schooling in England; and links with the wider profession of teaching and the professional learning of teachers, and the new College of Teaching. 

A University’s Challenge is an important book for a number of reasons, and will have international appeal to teacher educators, education researchers and policy-makers who may be seeking to promote closer university-school links or even university-sponsored schools. It provides:

- A detailed description and analysis of an approach to teacher education that combines the best of what school-based practice has to offer in combination with university-led research

- A case study of the planning for and implementation of a proposal for a school, including the numerous human, financial and intellectual resources that are required to undertake successfully such a large-scale endeavour, and the extent of the community and professional consultation involved.

The story of the UCPS encompasses the period 2011-16. The school is a testimony to what can be achieved by the collaborative endeavour of numerous people with diverse skills-sets, particularly when they are afforded the opportunity to create a school by a generous and supportive University, which was willing to back them. When all of that comes together, a remarkably fine institution is the result.