The life beyond

10th May 1996 at 01:00
An argument for measuring success by outcomes other than exam results has impressed Martin Titchmarsh

MONITORING EDUCATION: INDICATORS, QUALITY AND EFFECTIVENESS, By Carol Taylor Fitz-Gibbon, Cassell Pounds 14.99 A major task for any school is to answer the basic questions: how well are we doing? Can we do better? Professor Fitz-Gibbon's ALIS and YELLIS systems have assisted the process of school improvement over the past decade by providing first-rate, powerful, analytical tools to help schools assess their examination performance.

Her value-added work has demonstrated how educational research can be used in a practical way to raise standards in schools. In this wide-ranging book, in addition to chapters concerned with ALIS and YELLIS, Carol Fitz-Gibbon analyses the important issue of the measurement of performance and the use of performance indicators and monitoring systems.

In one interesting chapter she emphasises the importance of measuring educational outcomes other than achievement in examinations. If schools place great emphasis on pupils' attitudes, she argues, they should care enough about this to want to measure their success in achieving this outcome. She similarly writes interestingly on the measurement of teaching and learning processes.

Teachers are concerned about the extent to which they should be held accountable for examination results when they feel influences upon student performance often lie either beyond their direct control or at its margins. Fitz-Gibbon challenges the extent to which examination performance should be contextualised. She makes what she believes to be "an overwhelmingly strong case for not using . . . home background data in monitoring school performance".

Having failed, in many schools, to measure our performance and develop our own self evaluating monitoring systems, we now have the externally imposed system of Office for Standards in Education inspection. Fitz-Gibbon rejects the usefulness of evaluating school performance by exerting external pressure. She questions the cost, reliability and validity of OFSTED inspection and emphasises themerits of school self-review and evaluation.

The situation schools now face with OFSTED is reminiscent of the advice given in the Victorian manual, Jottings for the Young Sailor: "The worst plight of a vessel is to be caught in a gale on a lee shore. In this connection the following rules should be observed: one, never allow your vessel to be found in such a predicament." This sharply written book, which is full of good sense, is an important contribution towards getting us off the rocks.

* Martin Titchmarsh is headteacher of the Nobel School, Stevenage

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