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Don't blunder into change

ONE of Britain's most respected and contentious researchers has issued a cautionary warning to Scottish Executive ministers intent on education reform: "show us your evidence first".

Carol Fitz-Gibbon, director of the Curriculum, Evaluation and Management Centre at Durham University, and her colleague Peter Tymms said reforms south of the border had been a disaster since Labour had taken control.

"I have never seen such a decline as I have seen in the past decade in England. Standards have not risen. There is some evidence of rises in numeracy because of the one hour a day on numeracy, otherwise there has been massive grade inflation and the only thing England is top of in Europe is teenage drunkenness and violence," Professor Fitz-Gibbon told a conference in Glas-gow on monitoring performance in schools.

Professor Tymms said Labour had introduced 650 initiatives on the basics, yet there had been little impact on literacy standards. It was "back of the envelope" stuff.

Both researchers, who head the university's baseline assessment systems in primary and secondary, now used by one in three Scottish authorities, appealed for "evidence-based education". Teachers as professionals should be able to draw on the latest studies before implementing an initiative.

Professor Fitz-Gibbon said one of most successful ways to improve learning was to introduce cross-age learning, perhaps three weeks a term. Results from Los Angeles and Newcastle upon Tyne showed that the use of older pupils to teach slightly younger pupils was highly effective.

Professor Fitz-Gibbon said Durham's standardised tests, widely used in England since 1986, proved that standards had not risen. At the same time, teachers were more demoralised by the inspection and accountability regime.

The introduction of added-value systems of analysis was driving many students away from the more difficult subjects such as maths and science and those who went on to teacher training were less well equipped to teach core subjects.

Leader, page 22

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