Case against Fresh Start not proven

15th September 2000 at 01:00
THE Government would be unwise to draw the conclusion that its Fresh Start initiative has "failed to boost results" at GCSE (TES, September 1), if that judgment is made solely on the basis of changes in the percentage of pupils in a school achieving five or more A-C grades.

Clearly a decrease in this figure in 10 out of 11 schools is a concern, but for an individual school, normal variation between pupils in basic intellectual ability, changes in admission or exclusion policies, improvements (or deterioration) in value added in primary school, or even normal variation in the proportion of girls to boys could easily produce a 10 per cent fall in exam results.

Conversely, such variation could mask an underlying deterioration in individual pupil performance in schools whose overall percentage has improved.

Until the Government listensto its own advisers, and goes over to a system of baseline testing at the beginning of a key stage, with an analysis of improvement based on value-added for each pupil, aggregated over the school and compared with national norms, its evaluation of the success of its own initiatives will be seriously limited.

Nigel de Gruchy believes that Fresh Start is a bad idea. He is entitled to his view, but neither he nor we have sufficient evidence to confirm or refute this, especially at the individual school level. As an evaluator who has worked on more than 30 research projects, I suggest that it is the Government's chosen instrument for evaluating school improvement, not its Fresh Start initiative, which is the "cheap and nasty option".

Colin Harrison

Professor of literacy studies in


University of Nottingham

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