The recently published Lancaster University's research into the government's specialist schools programme and the Excellence in cities initiative has concluded that, the education policies costing billions, have been of meagre benefits.
The research pointed out the educational resources appeared to have been allocated inefficiently and inequitably in the programme, since most resources had gone to schools with higher proportions of better-off children. While there had been an improvement in exam results, only a third of the improvement could be attributed to government policy. The response of the Department for Children, Schools and Families was defensive, accusing the report of not looking at the whole picture. The same defensive reaction was evident this month when Cambridge University published its interim reports from a wide-ranging, independent, two-year review of primary education in England.
They demonstrate that the initial sharp rise in primary school test results between 1995 and 2000 is now understood to be largely a result of teaching to the tests, and not to a dramatic improvement in learning. It points out that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the government's own Statistics Commission accepted the rises were overstated. The review also finds that the primary curriculum has narrowed in response to the testing; that statutory tests make it harder, not easier, to judge pupils' progress; that there have been rises in test-induced stress among pupils; that the results of the tests are unreliable in up to a third of cases; and that the gap between the highest and lowest achievers in Britain is wider than in many other countries. The reports conclude there has been a genuine, although modest, improvement in children's numeracy. It cannot say the same about literacy.
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