20th February 1998 at 00:00
Children from a disadvantaged area of Aberdeen have proved they can match + Standard grade maths results across the country after learning their sums in + first and second year through an interactive computer package that talks back.A+ below average group of 52 Northfield Academy pupils subsequently gained + Standard grade results a level and a half above their peers in last summer's + exams. Teachers at the school say the results are "staggering" and will have + huge implications for learning.The project is the first in Scotland to use + integrated learning systems (ILS) in a controlled experiment and to measure + results against national standards monitored by university researchers.Its + success is sure to appeal to Tony Blair in his drive to ratchet up standards by+ harnessing new technology to classroom practice. The Northfield experiment + reinforces the Prime Minister's message that social disadvantage is no barrier + to academic achievement.Tom Robertson, Northfield's headteacher, said first + and second-year pupils in 1994 were given 15 minutes a day, four times a week, + on computers that respond to their progress in solving basic maths problems, as+ many as 35 in the time allocated. Even two years later, they sustained their + earlier progress. "It takes them over the threshold and on to higher levels," + Mr Robertson said.Julia Fuge, principal teacher of maths and the project's + co-ordinator, said 52 pupils in three classes were compared against 154 pupils+ in eight other mixed-ability classes who received no computer-assisted + learning. No extra help was given after the second year but 40 per cent + achieved maths grades 1-3, against 27 per cent among the others. The school + average over the previous four years was around 22 per cent.Mrs Fuge said: + "This is significantly better than the school has ever done. Results have been + fairly steady over the past five years. But the ILS group has doubled the + expectation of the year group. It is quite astounding. It does indicate to you + that these kids, given the right opportunities, can achieve what everyone else + can achieve."Mr Robertson commented: "You are breaking the cycle of low + self-esteem. You are putting these youngsters through a system that has taken + away extraneous factors that reinforce negativity and showing them they can do + things."Results in English are slightly less significant after a similar model + was followed for basic literacy. About 50 per cent of Northfield pupils over + the previous four years gained levels 1-3, but 68 per cent of the ILS group + reached the higher grades, a shift of half a grade better than expectation. + The non-ILS group recorded 54 per cent.Northfield is one of 12 projects in + Britain testing the methods but its results are among the most significant, + according to researchers from Leicester University. Mrs Fuge said: "We put this+ down to the integration back into the classroom. All the teachers have taken + ILS on board and use it as a tool to enhance their classroom teaching."Mr + Robertson said integrated learning was "differentiation to the nth degree". + Pupils were focused for longer when they sat at one of the 52 machines, enjoyed+ the experience and did not have to worry about how their friends were doing.