Critical comments

31st October 2003 at 00:00
I was saddened and disappointed by Professor Keith Topping's comments on the Critical Skills Programme (CSP) (Letters, October 17). Saddened that he should choose to denigrate a professional development programme of outstanding quality in such a gratuitous way; and disappointed that he should do so from a clearly inadequate knowledge base.

First, it is quite inappropriate to compare CSP with Philosophy for Children, though the two are entirely compatible. CSP is much more comprehensive in scope and the training is longer and more intensive. For example, Barrow-in-Furness action zone makes extensive use of both programmes but regards CSP as its main vehicle for improvement.

As director Mason Minnitt wrote recently: "CSP is a powerful, systematic and inspirational programme which successfully integrates the cognitive, social and emotional preconditions for effective learning. It is applicable from the nursery classroom to the postgraduate seminar, from the smallest primary school to the most diverse local education authority."

Secondly, the evidence for my "anecdote concerning a perception" of the impact of CSP in Bristol is as follows. In session 2001-2002, eight primary schools excluded 54 pupils for a total of 231 days. Following CSP training, the figures in session 2002-2003 fell to 18 pupils and 26.5 days.

In his annual report, director Terry Williamson wrote: "The Critical Skills Programme is our "flagship' project . . . Ofsted was very complimentary about the lessons they saw and the project itself . . . evidence from pupils and staff suggests that Critical Skills is having a strong and positive impact on behaviour and learning capability. Heads have suggested that the dramatic fall in fixed period exclusions this year is due to a great extent to the CSP."

Some of the Bristol training has in fact been funded through the behaviour improvement programme but CSP does much more than improve behaviour. As Ian Smith observed ("The why and the how", TESS, May 23), it addresses all five of our national priorities in a uniquely powerful and practical way.

Finally, regarding "adequate evidence" of its impact on educational outcomes, our website newsletters ( feature some of the hundreds of highly enthusiastic comments about CSP's impact, which were well summarised by Ian Smith: "By far the most exciting thing about the programme for teachers is that it actually works in the classroom." And formal evaluation is now under way at three English universities as well as in Glasgow.

Our next round of "open" training in Scotland is fully booked but we will be holding another round in MayOctober of next year. I warmly invite Professor Topping to come and experience for himself the power of CSP.

Colin Weatherley Critical Skills Programme manager (Scotland amp; Channel Islands), The Paddock Gullane, East Lothian

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