Research spat continues;Primary school results;News;News and opinion

10th December 1999 at 00:00
THE National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) is no longer allowed to call itself Britain's leading educational research organisation.

The Advertising Standards Authority has upheld a complaint from academic rivals that the slogan, which has been a feature of the foundation's publicity for at least 17 years, is unjustified and asks for it to be withdrawn from all advertising.

However, the academic cat-fight that developed around the issue in recent months shows no signs of abating, with renewed claims and counter-accusation in the aftermath of the ruling this week.

Dr Seamus Hegarty, NFER director, immediately announced that his organisation would be using the new formulation "Britain's leading independent educational research organisation", prompting protest and threats of a second complaint to the advertising watchdog.

Professor Carol Fitz-Gibbon, who made the original complaint in July with fellow Durham professor Peter Tymms in July, said: "Our problem is with the word leading. I don't know anyone who thinks that the NFER is giving the lead in any kind of research. If necessary we will go back to the authority to contest this.

"One doesn't want to spend a lot of time on this, but it just isn't right. They have had subscriptions from local authorities and universities for years, and they have not used it for cutting-edge research development."

The curriculum, evaluation and management centre in Durham has been engaged in cut-throat competition with the NFER for performance indicator work in schools in recent years, but the professors claim their complaints are unrelated to the rivalry.

"I am quite friendly towards the people in the NFER. It is just, in my view, they are in no way leading," Professor Fitz-Gibbon said.

Dr Hegarty said he did not want to engage in a public slanging match.

"We found the decision pretty surprising but we will respect it," he said. "We will simply insert the word 'independent' and sit and wait for some other hard-pressed academic to complain," he said.

The ruling accepted that the NFER had more external funding than any rival, but that the foundation had "not proved its claim in a wider sense". It had not established, for example, that the quality of its research was higher than its rivals.

James Tooley, professor of education policy at the University of Newcastle, said the authority's finding was excellent news.

He said: "I am happy for Tymms and Fitz-Gibbon, who see themselves as being very entrepreneurial in education research and very much on the cutting edge. Congratulations to them both."

Alan Smithers, professor of education at Liverpool University, said he agreed with the ruling, although he could not understand why colleagues had "got their knickers in such a twist" about a touch of advertising hyperbole.

"The NFER is excellent in its way," he said. "But there are also many other first-rate groups. There is excellent work going on in Durham and we are not so bad ourselves."

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