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Benefits of strategies debatable

Two Office for Standards in Education reports on the national literacy and numeracy strategies come hard on the heels of an independent evaluation commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, writes Philip Adey.

Ministers have invested serious political capital in the strategies, which aim to raise the percentage of children achieving level 4 or above in key stage 2 national tests. So what do these three weighty reports tell us about the their impact on achievement?

Ofsted regrets that the national percentage reaching level 4 seems to have levelled out, although it did rise after the strategies were first introduced.

The Institute draws attention to the curious fact that the percentage of children achieving level 4 in science (which has no strategy) seemed to be rising as fast, or faster, than in English and maths. It even offers a table of data for science, English and maths since tests started in 1996.

When plotted as a graph (below), the figures show that level 4s were already rising before the strategies were introduced nationally. Any subsequent rise is no more than a continuing trend. Worse, the strategies seem to herald the levelling-out process, while science continues to show improvement.

Most of us in education have a much broader notion of what counts as success. But if key stage test levels are the Government's preferred currency, they should not blame us for looking at them as a pay-off from the strategies.

Unfortunately, it seems that an amount estimated as pound;170 to pound;500 million has been spent on strategies which show no evidence of improving achievement. The materials are lovely, the professional development programme is OK, consultants say pupils are learning better, teachers say they are teaching better, but there is no measurable effect.

Perhaps we should look at the key stage 3 strategy to see if something can be salvaged before it is too late.

Philip Adey is professor of cognition, science, and education at King's College, London

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