How to make all the difference

2nd January 1998 at 00:00
Fifty countries will be represented at the 1998 International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI) in Manchester next week, underlining the global concern that exists about raising standards in education - and the extent of the belief that schools can make a difference to children's learning.

Over 1,000 delegates will meet to discuss contributions from more than 300 researchers and teachers.

The voice of pupils will also be heard at the congress; the contribution they can make to improving their own learning is "a growing and significant focus for school improvement", according to Louise Stoll of the University of London Institute of Education and Kathryn Riley of the Roehampton Institute.

But in their paper summarising the "burgeoning of activity" in school effectiveness and improvement in England since the last international congress in 1995, they suggest too little is focused at classroom level.

Academic, local authority and even Government focus on the subject has increased - including the creation of the Government's new Effectiveness and Standards Unit. But these efforts are not without their critics.

Researchers in the field are accused by some academics as "bedfellows of neo-conservative politicians peddling feel-good fictions", Louise Stoll and Kathryn Riley report. School effectiveness and improvement is accused of reducing education to a series of performance indicators and ignoring the impact of social and economic factors on children's learning.

Even one of the arch-exponents in the field, David Reynolds, chairman of the national numeracy project, is quoted in their paper as admitting "we have been instrumental in creating a quite widespread popular view that schools do not just make a difference but that they make all the difference".

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