Research notes...;Update

27th February 1998 at 00:00
Surveys, studies and reports examined by Reva Klein

Liberated by the power of love

Think back a few years to the horrific images from Romanian orphanages, where toddlers and school-aged children were strapped into their cots or commodes indefinitely. The only adult contact they had was with staff who occasionally cleaned them up or fed them brusquely. Looking at those children, it would have been safe to assume that they had no future outside institutions.

But leading child psychiatrist Michael Rutter at the Maudsley Hospital in London is about to publish findings that offers hope to those working closely with these and other children who have started life in extreme deprivation. What he reveals in his five-year study of 165 orphans who were adopted by British parents is that many have been able to make up for lost time and catch up with their peers. It also throws up intriguing questions about the relative influences of nature and nurture.

He found that while more than half fell into the category of mental retardation when they arrived in this country, most had reached a normal IQ by the age of four without special tuition or counselling provision.

Professor Rutter believes that the adoptive parents' love and attention helped turn these these children's lives around. But he says that the crucial factor in their progress was determined by how long they spent in orphanages. The longer a child spent in heartless, soulless institutions, the less likelihood they had of being able to function normally later on.

But satisfying as it might be to do so, it would be unwise to draw any conclusions about nurture being the stronger influence of the two or to even try to separate the impact of genes and environment. They are not only of equal importance, are interdependent: the genetic make-up of a person will determine their relationship with their environment.

* Smaller classes improve maths results

Highly-structured teaching methods brought marked improvements in maths scores, according to a report by the director of the National Numeracy Project.

The paper, based on findings from the National Foundation for Educational Research, shows almost 40 per cent of the 221 primary schools taking part in the project improved their test results at age 11 by 15 per cent in a year.

This supports the Government's national numeracy strategy, announced last month. Labour wants primary schools to devote 45 minutes to an hour each day to a dedicated maths lesson using whole-class teaching and group work, with a focus on tables, problem solving and mental maths.

In the paper, project director Anita Straker pinpoints factors that made a difference. Smaller classes and more time spent on maths helped, but school size and nursery attendance had little impact.

Details from 01189 527500.

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