Look, learn don't copy;Letter

10th September 1999 at 01:00
WHILE, LAST Friday, an Edinburgh conference was enjoying the rhetoric of the imported propagandists, delegates to the British Educational Research Association were taking a sober look at the facts. These reveal not a shred of evidence to support the new panaceas that were being peddled to the Scots, not an iota of hard data to validate didactic teaching, autonomous authority-free schools or OFSTED's "improvement through inspection".

In fact the evidence points in quite the opposite direction. Separate independent research in England by Carol Fitz-Gibbon, by Kogan and Maden and by Sir David Winkley for Channel 4, paints a dismal picture of lowering teacher recruitment, sagging teacher morale and post-inspection absenteeism.

The conclusion of Cedric Cullingford's study is that OFSTED has led to a lowering of standards, not only in the broad sense but in the specific sense of measured attainment. And the cost of this? pound;150 million a year. Cullingford's compendium of evidence from a wide range of sources makes damning reading. But then researchers would say that, wouldn't they? Why listen to them? Like teachers, university lecturers and education authorities, they are the enemy within.

We still have a lot to learn from English schools and English teachers, from those wise enough and resilient enough to rise above the bombast of the quangocrats.

We also have a lot still to learn from Ontario schools but we had better be fast because the good things, the learner-friendly things in their system are being dismantled at an alarming pace. The damage already inflicted on Sinclair secondary school, winner of the Bertelsmann Prize in 1996 (pushing Scotland into second place), is such that consideration has been given to returning the award.

We must, as one Scottish chief inspector is fond of saying, look over the parapet. But the simple message must be - watch, don't copy.

John MacBeath

Quality in Education Centre, Jordanhill campus

Strathclyde University

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