Looking for the positive

14th November 2003 at 00:00
Your correspondent Colin Weatherley (Letters, October 31) raises interesting questions about what might be considered "adequate evidence" for educational programmes such as that on critical skills.

Most reflective practitioners would not consider "adequate evidence" to include either highly selected verbatim comments from selected locations (especially when reported third hand), or changes in exclusion rates in one selected council (where a very large number of other variables could have been involved).

Reports by external inspectors might have more credence (although the reliability and validity of Ofsted reports have been criticised by the teaching profession, among others). A listing of all schools involved in the training for the critical skills programme (CSP) would enable a systematic analysis of the Ofsted reports on all these schools.

I have no doubt that a number of extremely capable, creative and committed teachers are delivering CSP. However, objective and robust evidence that the programme itself adds significant value is hard to find even in the United States, from where CSP originated.

I look forward to publication of the reports from the four universities where a presumably rigorous evaluation is reportedly in progress - doubtless these will all be made available in full on the CSP website.

I will be pleased if they are all unequivocally positive, since I am sympathetic to all the objectives of the CSP programme. However, widespread adoption of a programme before any adequate evidence of its effectiveness is available is not the smart way to do things.

There is a difference between commercial advertising and robust, objective evidence. One would expect that learning to make such discriminations would be a component of all thinking skills programmes.

Keith Topping

Professor of Educational and Social Research

University of Dundee

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