Evidence shows we can effect change

12th March 2010 at 00:00

Bernard Barker makes five extreme claims that are not supported by the available research evidence on school leadership, effectiveness and improvement, the role of inspection and professional learning ("The five assumptions that ensure we fail", February 26).

First, that successful leaders cannot transform their schools - evidence from international reviews by Ken Leithwood and Vivienne Robinson and research in England by Christopher Day et al in 2009 reveal the importance of leadership in promoting school improvement.

Second, effective and efficient schools cannot overcome disadvantage and improve life chances - the Effective Provision of Pre-school and Primary Education research shows that high quality pre-school and a more effective primary school experience act as positive interventions that improve outcomes for disadvantaged children.

Third and fourth, that markets, competition, accountability and inspection cannot raise standards - evidence on the improvement of the weakest schools following identification and various forms of support has been especially striking in England (see the National Audit Office, 2006). The improvement of schools in disadvantaged areas is particularly marked.

Fifth, that best practice in teaching and organisation cannot be transferred from one school context to another - evidence from the successful London Leadership Challenge, school networking and improvement partnerships shows that collaboration can benefit schools, staff and students.

The research community has a duty to ensure that research evidence is treated seriously and to avoid sensationalism. The claims in Professor Barker's article and book are dangerous because they promote the view that policymakers and practitioners are powerless to effect positive change, whereas considerable bodies of research provide valuable evidence on strategies that promote improvement and can enhance life chances for the disadvantaged.

Professor P Sammons Oxford University, Prof C Chapman and Prof D Muijs Manchester University, Prof C Day and Dr Qing Gu Nottingham University, Prof A Harris Institute of Education, London, Prof A Kelly Southampton University, and Prof D Reynolds Plymouth University.

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