Expert muddle

21st June 1996 at 01:00
There are some puzzling messages coming from various politicians and assorted experts at the moment.

First, whole-class teaching is the flavour of the month, but apparently not in all subjects.

Second, mixed-ability teaching is both "in" and "out". In Taiwan, a version of it seems to work, but politicians of both main parties, who look to "successful" Tiger economies for ideas, want to remove it from comprehensives.

Third, differentiation has been emphasised by the Office for Standard in Education, but apparently the research from Taiwan pours cold water on this notion.

Fourth, teachers who watched the Panorama programme two weeks ago are being asked to believe that a Taiwanese drill lesson and a whole-class group lesson on mathematical concepts are the same thing. Did the researchers know the difference? I assume not.

Fifth, raising basic literacy standards is the goal of both Right and Left, but no one seems to know what this means in practice. David Blunkett's confusion about the role of phonics and the norm-referenced nature of reading ages does not help to clarify Labour's viewpoint.

Sixth, UK children are behind in maths, but not in all aspects. "Hand-ling data" is one area of strength. But isn't it the most important one?

The overall impression is that the wrong target is being aimed at. If things have gone wrong, then the first thing we need to do is examine the impact of 1988 Education Reform Act. What was there about this piece of legislation which eight years later reduced us to this state?

Professor John Quicke Division of Education University of Sheffield 388 Glossop Road Sheffield

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