Handle Hackney Downs with care

5th January 1996 at 00:00
Professor Sally Tomlinson rightly calls for a debate about the role of education associations (TES, December 22). Any debate, however, will be extremely unproductive if it is based on such a misleading use of information as Professor Tomlinson displays in her article.

Dealing with the basics first. She says the report on Hackney Downs school contained no detailed evidence of the extensive consultation mentioned on page 11. This assertion merely shows that she has not read the report. Annex 2 of the report sets out the details she seeks and demonstrates, incidentally, greater support for closure than for maintaining the school.

Second, Professor Tomlinson, who is known to be opposed to the publication of raw results in league- table form (on the grounds that they are misleading) chooses to use them to make a completely unfounded attack on Homerton House school, to which most former Hackney Downs pupils are transferring. This is not only hypocritical but mischievous. Homerton House is evidently improving. Unlike Hackney Downs, it was not found by the Office for Standards in Education to be in need of special measures, and the head and staff have made tremendous strides.

Third, on per pupil expenditure Professor Tomlinson is blatantly disingenuous. The class sizes fell dramatically as the role decreased: yet no evidence of significant improvement followed. How can one justify a school spending Pounds 6,489 per pupil (more than three times the national average) and still failing, when every penny of that expenditure is at the expense of other Hackney pupils? She also fails to acknowledge that the expenditure of roughly Pounds 3, 000 per pupil which applied before the dramatic fall in the roll was already much higher than most schools.

Professor Tomlinson is right to call for a debate on how we should deal with schools offering unacceptably low standards. I would hope, however, that we can expect participants in the debate to read the key texts with due care. She accuses the education association of being selective. In fact its report on Hackney Downs is extremely thorough in examining the evidence not just on quality, but also on finance and the wider planning issues that the case raised. It is Professor Tomlinson who is guilty of selectivity.

Meanwhile, the suggestion that she is qualified to write about the school because it was part of a research study she conducted in the late 1980s is simply ludicrous.

PROFESSOR MICHAEL BARBER

Dean of new initiatives Institute of Education University of London

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