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Sketchy outlines of strategies' success

England's pound;140 million-a-year literacy and numeracy strategies have not been the waste of money that their critics claim. But it may be many years before their impact becomes evident.

A leading Canadian researcher has reached this conclusion after poring over primary school performance data for 1998-2002.

As we reported last week, researchers from King's College, London, found that the pound;400m numeracy strategy has had little effect on nine-year-olds' maths scores. But Ben Levin, of Manitoba University, gave a more upbeat assessment at the conference.

"The cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness (calculations) are too hard to do," he said. "That's why we have to talk about value-for-money outcomes.

The strategies have offered reasonable value for money but their impact isn't yet clear. We also don't know which parts of the strategies are most effective." Dr Levin noted that the lowest-performing schools and local education authorities made the biggest gains. But improvement at key stage 2 had stalled in 2001 and 2002. "Ironically, science achievement rose more although there wasn't a strategy to support it," said Dr Levin. "But you could say that improved numeracy and literacy helped to drive up science scores."

Dr Levin added that longer-term outcomes would be more important than the benchmark that is currently used for measuring the strategies' success - 11-year-olds' test scores.

But he ended his assessment enigmatically: "Was this the best way to spend the money? Would it be better to spend the cash on early child development?

"As a cartoonist once said:'Those are good questions that call for some real evasion'."

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