Agency fears shaming may backfire

The government's policy of "naming and shaming" colleges could be doing more harm than good, new research published by the Learning and Skills Development Agency this week suggests.

Efforts to improve student achievement and staff performance "are likely to be ineffectual" unless they work to raise self-esteem and encourage lecturers to value the system, according to the report based on in-depth interviews with 236 lecturers.

For most of the 1990s, ministers concentrated on measures to improve student retention and achievement. "This policy imperative was embodied in funding and inspection frameworks, with colleges that were seen to be under-achieving 'named and shamed'," the report says.

But the report added that improvements had "proved elusive" with retention rates remaining stagnant from 1996-2000. While achievement rates improved over the same period, it said that the rate of improvement appears to be slowing down.

The LSDA report suggests a radical shift in thinking is needed, focusing less on organisational structures and frameworks and more on staff and students. Efforts to improve must "focus almost obsessively" on students'

learning and teachers' teaching or they are doomed to fail, it says.

One of the key findings of the report, Pride or Prejudice, is that teachers who are most successful attribute success to their own efforts, while those who fail blame factors beyond their control. While the report does not set out to offer a checklist of best practice, it does highlight factors which, researchers believe, can change attitudes and improve personal performance.

Chris Hughes, chief executive, of the Learning and Skills Development Agency, said: "The overwhelming message is that any efforts to raise standards must focus on improving teaching and learning and put students at the heart of everything. There appears to be a strong culture of empowerment of teachers in the colleges that are doing well and a blame culture in those doing less well."

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