ORACLE to MAST: 40 years of observation studies in UK junior school classrooms

Peter Blatchford*, Rob Webster

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


    The ORACLE study, first published in 1980, provided much needed systematic descriptive information on the interactions and behaviour of pupils in the upper primary school in the UK, to set against the political rhetoric of the day. Since this pioneering study, there have been several other systematic observation studies of pupils at the same stage, but to date, these results have not been collated in order to provide an historical account of trends over time. This chapter uses data from six large-scale studies (ORACLEs 1 and 2, One in Five, PACE, DISS and MAST) to assess change over time in amounts of interactions with teachers, interactions with peers and independent activities. In addition it addresses two features of mainstream primary schools that have arisen since the ORACLE study: the increase in pupils with special educational needs (SEN) and the huge rise on the numbers of teaching assistants (TAs) working in classrooms. A main result was the doubling of interactions with teachers over the last 35 years, especially interactions as part of the whole class. As a result pupils had a more pronounced passive role. In contrast to pupils without SEN, we found that pupils with SEN had high levels of separation from their peers, either through adult support or because of time spent out of the class. But the main trend over time for pupils with SEN was for them to have far more interactions with TAs, often one-to-one. This has had profound consequences for such pupils’ educational experience and progress.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationLife in Schools and Classrooms
    Subtitle of host publicationPast, Present and Future
    EditorsRupert Maclean
    PublisherSpringer Singapore
    Number of pages17
    ISBN (Electronic)9789811036545
    ISBN (Print)9789811036521, 9789811099328
    Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2017

    Publication series

    NameEducation in the Asia-Pacific Region: Issues, Concerns and Prospects
    ISSN (Print)1573-5397
    ISSN (Electronic)2214-9791


    • group work
    • paraprofessionals
    • peer interaction
    • special educational needs
    • systematic observations
    • teacher pupil interaction
    • teaching assistants


    Dive into the research topics of 'ORACLE to MAST: 40 years of observation studies in UK junior school classrooms'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this