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Bath plugs the information gap

Work done by Bath University with a consortium of schools in the deprived south Bristol area has been the driving force behind a new centre to improve standards and efficiency in schools.

The Centre for School Improvement aims to operate as a consultancy, run courses for teachers and be a channel in the South-west for research being done into school effectiveness.

The new centre hopes to exchange information with similar centres at four other universities - Keele, Cardiff, Birmingham and London University's Institute of Education. Demand from schools for help from the universities has increased with the decline of local education authorities. Where once staff in an authority would have been the first point of call that option is often not available and Bath University's consultancy work is increasing.

Ian Jamieson, professor of education at Bath and the director of the new centre, said: "This is one area where schools are prepared to spend money. Their performance is much more closely scrutinised. Along with marketing this is an area in which they feel they cannot afford not to get their act together. "

It is hoped that the centre will prove lucrative - Pounds 100,000 a year is predicted within three years from research and course fees.

Professor Jamieson said five years ago the university was asked to help in Bristol where there was anxiety about how effective the 16 schools in the consortia were, particularly in the light of publication of league tables.

"It would have been easy for us to stay and work in the leafy suburbs around Bath. South Bristol provided a challenge and a chance to work where it would really count."

University staff have worked with the schools to develop a wider set of performance indicators than just exam results.

Professor Jamieson said a "tight and loose" model tended to reflect departments which were performing well. "Some work is tied down tight: assessment, homework policy, the choice of syllabus. In these areas everybody knows what they are supposed to do. But how teachers work with kids is left loose to allow individuals to do things their own way."

"Having found models that work it is about trying to put them into practise in different schools with different needs. We explore ways of moving towards the ideals," he said.

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