The Institute of Education at London University is the largest education research department in the country to achieve the highest ranking for the quality of its work in the British university league published this week.
Its rating is equalled only by King's College, also part of London University, which put forward the work of 37 full-time research staff, compared with the 140 staff at the Institute. The league table puts the two institutions ahead of the 103 university departments carrying out research in education.
Confirmation of the institute's expertise in research makes it a more formidable critic of the Office for Standards in Education. Professor Peter Mortimore, the institute's director, has been at odds with OFSTED over its plan to re-inspect primary teacher-training courses at his and 19 other institutions.
Following pressure from teacher-training departments, the plan to single out the 20 institutions was abandoned and OFSTED is to begin re-inspecting all primary courses instead.
The institute achieved top ratings in the original assessment of its primary teacher training courses. Professor Mortimore has also criticised the reseach base of OFSTED's report on literacy in three London boroughs.
Among the 10 largest departments in England, the Roehampton Institute and the education department at Exeter and Manchester have fallen in the ratings since 1992, when the last table was produced. Roehampton gets the second lowest ranking on the new scale. (It is rated 2 on a scale that runs from a high of 5* to 1).
At Exeter and Manchester, the departments have fallen back one rank from the top grading achieved four years ago. This year, Exeter put forward between 60 and 80 per cent of research staff for assessment, compared with more than 95 per cent of staff in 1992. Manchester put forward more than 95 per cent of its research staff, compared with between 80 and 94 in 1992.
The worst rated among the larger departments is the Northern College of Education in Scotland.
This year's rankings achieve greater differentiation with the replacement of the five-point scale used in 1992. Only the institute, which put forward the equivalent of 140 full-time research staff, and King's College, which put forward the equivalent of 37.3 full-timers, have gained the new five starred rating. They were both among the 10 departments that gained the highest grade in 1992.
The education departments also highly rated (five) include Birmingham, which put forward the equivalent of 63.1 full-time research staff, Bristol, with the equivalent of 40.8 staff, and the Open University education technology department, with 50 researchers.
Sheffield with 37.2, East Anglia with 36.8; Newcastle upon Tyne with 33, Oxford with 18.1, Lancaster with 17 and Bath with 22 are also highly rated.
The only highly-rated departments to put forward the work of more than 95 per cent of their research staff were Birmingham, Lancaster and Sheffield.
The league table reflects the judgments of a panel of academics on the quality of the research submitted.