Hero to villain for Wiliam

4th August 2006 at 01:00
hould Dylan now be the villain? Professor Dylan Wiliam of London University is having a profound impact on Scottish education (page three). It was his co-authored work eight years ago that set off the Assessment is for Learning Programme, which Strathclyde University researchers said in their interim analysis last autumn was "one of the most ambitious developments in Scottish education in the past 25 years".

Like Wiliam, the Strathclyde researchers report that assessment in class as pupils learn every day is beginning to make a difference. Forget the rumpus about 5-14 national testing and publication of test results, attainment can rise when pupils receive immediate feedback on the work they have done and can see next steps clearly. Teaching styles change when teachers give more time for questioning and answers. Simple classroom strategies that focus on the teacher appear to matter.

Last week, also saw the full publication of the SCRE Centre review of evidence for cutting class sizes, part of the Scottish Executive's commitment to the Educational Institute of Scotland in the post-McCrone deal. It is inconclusive. Wiliam, while not dismissing smaller classes - and his new university has carried out a major study in England - comes down in favour of changing teaching styles through assessment for learning.

Bluntly, he reminds us that it costs between five and 20 times as much to cut classes as it does to build the professional confidence of teachers, if this is all about performance. Better teachers is the key, he argues. Modern teaching approaches may well require smaller classes, as the EIS argues, but government certainly knows there are alternatives.

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