Standards drive falters, say studies

31st March 2006 at 01:00
Research finds secondaries boost results by excluding difficult pupils and changing intakes. Jon Slater and William Stewart report

Efforts by central and local government to raise standards in schools have little or no impact, according to separate studies by two leading academics.

Stephen Gorard of York university and Peter Tymms of Durham's curriculum and evaluation and management centre have concluded that pupils' results have been determined by other factors, particularly wealth and prior attainment.

Improvements in the results of individual secondaries, including academies, are likely to be the result of changes in their intake or the exclusion of difficult students before they sit exams, Professor Gorard said.

Professor Tymms found variations of less than 1 per cent in the performance of 11-year-olds in different authorities once external factors such as prior attainment and family income were taken into account.

Professor Gorard's report brings together his previous research on a range of government initiatives including academies, targets and widening participation in higher education.

Value-added league tables were criticised for misleading parents about the effectiveness of schools because they fail to give enough credit to schools in poorer areas and with weaker intakes.

Claims that targets have helped push up standards are also contradicted by the evidence, Professor Gorard said. The biggest increase in the proportion of pupils gaining five A*-C GCSEs occurred in 1992, the year before the Conservatives introduced national targets.

Professor Gorard said: "In each case there is no convincing evidence of the beneficial impact of educational policy interventions, even where the originators of the intervention claim otherwise."

Professor Tymms looked at government data on national test results for seven and 11-year-olds from 2002-03 and figures collected by his university's curriculum and evaluation and management Centre charting the progress of pupils at more than 1,000 primaries.

It said local education authorities make little difference: "Across the whole of England it can be said that very little importance can be attached to the impact of one LEA compared to another," it said.

This contradicts Ofsted evidence and raises questions about the Government's policy of privatising LEAs judged to be failing by inspectors.

Professor Tymms identifies three possible explanations: the actions of LEAs are too remote to make a difference in classrooms; the centralisation of education policy in England; and LEAs may have too little capacity to act independently because most funds have to be devolved to schools.

The research was commissioned by Newcastle council, which was being told by the Government that it needed to do more to raise the attainment of pupils in the city.

Professor Tymms recommends a package that would cost an extra pound;1.5 million a year, including extra teacher training, more focus on recruiting and retaining good teachers and schemes such as peer mentoring designed to counteract the effects of deprivation. It is being considered by the council.


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