An effective, if blunt, instrument

7th June 1996 at 01:00
Professor David Reynolds could never be accused of mincing his words. His writing is peppered with soundbite-friendly phrases indicating - as did his appearance on the BBC's Panorama on Monday - that he will not hold back from speaking what he sees to be the truth, however unpalatable teachers might find it.

In 1985 he referred to teachers' "well-documented tradition of blaming everyone except themselves and their schools for their pupils' problems". Last year he drew attention to the fear, fantasies and "grossly dysfunctional sets of interpersonal relationships" which abound in failing schools.

The views of Newcastle University's 47-year-old professor of education have been formulated over 20 years of research on school effectiveness and are reaching an increasingly wide audience. They include the need for Britain to learn from the best of overseas teaching methods, the main conclusion of his report which was commissioned by the Office for Standards in Education and featured on Panorama.

David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, is "very impressed" by Professor Reynolds's work, and was "delighted" when he agreed to join the party's new literacy task force.

After A-levels at King Edward VI School, Norwich, David Reynolds went to Essex University to read sociology and then to the Medical Research Council's epidemiology unit, in Cardiff, where he produced a comparative study of truancy rates at secondary schools.

Part of the last cohort of people who managed to get into academe without a PhD, he stayed in Cardiff, teaching in the education department at University College and publishing numerous articles and a book on school effectiveness. He was a senior lecturer when he moved to Newcastle in 1993.

"If I hadn't been an academic I would have wanted to be the head of an effective secondary school," he says. "But I felt it was possible to do research that would have a positive impact on children's life chances in more than one school.

"In a way I'm embarrassed by the fact that I've never been a teacher. But although my ideas have often had a hostile response, I've never had a member of staff come up to me and say 'You don't understand what it's like for us'. "

The professor believes passionately in road-testing his research, discussing his theories with teachers at least one day a week. He also values the "high-quality critiques" delivered by his undergraduates at Newcastle, and while his ideas put him in the spotlight, teaching is the most enjoyable aspect of his work.

"I don't really have any recreations and my friends say I'm a workaholic. If I do have a weakness it's a tendency to overcommit to my work," David Reynolds admits.

During the week he lives on Tyneside, returning at weekends to his wife and two children near Cardiff - an arrangement which, characteristically, he sums up in educational terms: "I'm someone who can function well as a split-site operation."

Reynolds on Panorama, Platform, page 21.

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