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Staff snowed under by reforms

CANADA. THE "blizzard" of reform introduced by Ontario's Conservative government has been criticised by Michael Fullan, author of a just-published study of England's literacy and numeracy strategies.

"Over the past six years, there has been a blizzard of piecemeal changes in Ontario that have been all on the pressure side (cuts, testing and centralisation of policy), unlike England's approach to reform which has employed equal measures of accountability and support for reform," said Dr Fullan, from the University of Toronto.

The audit, The Schools We Need, criticises the government for centralising funding; shifting authority from local school boards and introducing a new curriculum that does not take into account what students know.

Dr Fullan is also critical of Ontario's education cuts - amounting to $2 billion (pound;1bn) a year since 1995 - and of the tax credit for parents who send their children to independent schools. This, he says, creates the impression that "the public education system is not a high priority for the government".

"Assessment of student learning in Ontario is on the right track," said Dr Fullan, "but there has been an absence of strategies to enable teachers and schools to bring about specific improvements in teaching."

While the audit generally supports the new curriculum, it criticises its implementation. Kenneth Liethwood from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, who co-wrote the audit, said students in the upper grades were expected to jump as much as half a year in maths and science without being given adequate preparatory work.

The Schools We Need criticises the Conservative government's confrontational approach to the province's 118,400 teachers over the past six years. "There's a great deal of rancour and alienation and the feeling on the part of teachers that they are not respected or valued.

"In England, by contrast, there has been a lot of support for teachers in terms of implementing the numeracy and literacy programmes."

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