High cost of targets

7th July 2000 at 01:00
A PROMINENT Ontario politician once asked an audience of educationists if they knew the difference between Michael Fullan and God. "Michael Fullan," he said, without waiting for a reply, "is everywhere apart from Ontario."

The barbed compliment went down well because the world is indeed clamouring for the services of the modest Toronto academic - a leading authority on school improvement. Memphis one day. Helsinki the next.

But as with all "deities", Michael Fullan finds that people interpret his words in diverse ways. Schools minister Estelle Morris welcomes his evaluation of the literacy and numeracy strategies, claiming that it endorses "one of the most comprehensive education reform strategies in the world". The curmudgeonly Daily Telegraph, meanwhile, reports that Professor Fullan believes that "Labour's campaign for 3Rs isn't working".

In fact, the truth lies rather closer to Ms Morris's account, judging by the professor's TES-sponsored lecture at Keele University a fortnight ago. He told his audience that while there was always a danger of "false certainty" he believed there had been "very impressive movement in literacy" t key stage 2 and "significant gains" in numeracy.

But, as Michael Fullan must know, such progress has a price. No, not the pound;170 million that the strategies are said to cost per year, but the impact on schools. Michael Barber may be able to justify the pressure that the Government is exerting by arguing that a long-term strategy will only succeed if it delivers short-term results (see pages 22 to 24). However, it is evident that demands for continuous increases in education "yields" are creating gross distortions.

Last week we reported that Paul Silvester, deputy head of a Hampshire primary school, was quitting to become a barman because he was seeing children turned off education at an ever-earlier age.Unfortunately, his was merely the latest in a long line of similar testimonies that The TES has been sent. This year, for the first time, we are hearing that phrases such as "the princess achieved her target" are appearing in children's "creative" work.

When that sort of thing happens teachers know it is time to take their foot off the accelerator. But the Government is unlikely to do so this side of a general election.

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