The primary school as a logic machine

Year: 2013

Author: Hattam, Robert, Comber, Barbara

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper makes a case for thinking about the primary school as a logic machine (apparatus) as a way of thinking about processes of in-school stratification. Firstly we discuss related literature on in-school stratification in primary schools, particularly as it relates to literacy learning. Secondly we explain how school reform can be thought about in terms of the idea of the machine or apparatus. In which case the processes of in-school stratification can be mapped as more than simply concerns about school organisation (such as students grouping) but also involve a politics of truth, played out in each school, that constitutes school culture and what counts as ‘good’ pedagogy. Thirdly, the chapter will focus specifically on research conducted into primary schools in the Northern Suburbs of Adelaide, one of the most educationally disadvantaged regions in Australia, as a case study of the relationship between in-school stratification and the reproduction of inequality. We will draw from more than 20 years of ethnographic work in primary school in the northern suburbs of Adelaide and provide a snapshot of a recent attempt to improve literacy achievement in a few Northern Suburbs public primary schools (SILA project). The SILA project, through diagnostic reviews, has provided a significant analysis of the challenges facing policy and practice in such challenging school contexts that also maps onto existing (inter)national research. These diagnostic reviews said ‘hard things’ that required attention by SILA schools and these included:
·    an over reliance on whole class, low level, routine tasks and hence a lack of challenge and rigour in the learning tasks offered to students ;
·    a focus on the 'code breaking' function of language at the expense of richer conceptualisations of literacy that might guide teachers’ understanding of challenging pedagogies ;

·    the need for substantial shifts in the culture of schools, especially unsettling deficit views of students and their communities ;
·    a need to provide a more ‘consistent’ approach to teaching literacy across the school;
·    a need to focus School Improvement Plans in order to implement a clear focus on literacy learning; and,
·    a need to sustain professional learning to produce new knowledge and practice .
The paper will conclude with suggestions for further research and possible reform projects into the primary school as a logic machine.