US educationist claims to have the answer to UK failing schools
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US educationist claims to have the answer to UK failing schools

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Schools in Britain are going nowhere fast. This week the Government announced that hundreds of secondary schools would have to close if they didn't improve their GCSE results. One in five pupils still starts at secondary school with poor basic skills, and last month Ofsted announced that standards had 'stalled'.

The education watchdog now plans to give failing schools more inspections, but a top US educationist believes that could be barking up the wrong tree. He says we know perfectly well how to fix schools. We just don't choose to do it. Instead, we pass over all the things that have been shown to work in favour of random hunches, short-lived fashions and empty political posturings.

Robert Slavin is a leading educational psychologist who has arrived in the UK to head up the newly formed Institute for Effective Education at York University. He directs a similar centre at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and is famous for a ground-breaking school reform programme that now runs in 1,200 schools in the US.

In his new job, Slavin plans to direct attention to what works in education, and persuade schools to implement it. He is deeply frustrated by how no school system in the world is yet rooted in policies based on hard evidence.

'Our problem isn't a lack of knowledge about how children learn, or what effective teaching methods are,' he says. 'Our problem is a lack of knowledge about how to help teachers apply research-proven methods every day.'

'Research tells us a lot about effective education. Yet until those well-established principles are formed into detailed and replicable programmes, and evaluated in comparison with traditional methods, we're unlikely to make systematic, broad-scale progress.'

Slavin's own school reform package is exactly such a programme. Success for All promotes early educational success for children, particularly those from deprived backgrounds, by concentrating on basic literacy. It was started in 1987 in the US, and 10 years later arrived in the UK, where it was tried out in Nottingham, and where some pupils quickly made a year's progress in one term. Now it is used in 90 schools in this country, all in deprived areas, and between 2004 and 2007 the pupils in those schools made almost three times more progress in reading at Key Stage 2 than pupils in other schools in England.

Success for All uses phonics, setting, regular assessment and paired learning to ensure that all children get a good start in school and no one is left behind (see box), and more might have been heard about it here except that a sudden enthusiasm for one of its key elements

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