Going back to the future 'is wrong'

Education methods: Professor clashes with traditionalists over interpretation of study showing benefits of Far East teaching
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The Independent Online
Traditionalists who hope to use an academic's research to force a return to the teaching methods of the 1950s are wrong.

Professor David Reynolds, author of the research showing the benefits of whole-class maths teaching, said yesterday he did not want to see a return to the past. His comments folcame as the chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead, that schools should turn their backs on modern lessons based on group work.

Prof Reynolds, whose research on mathematics teaching showed that British eight year-olds lagged behind their peers in Taiwan and Hong Kong, said schools should not drop interactive teaching.

Since his research on Taiwan was featured in the Independent last year, both ministers and government advisers have praised the teaching methods used in the Far East.

Yesterday Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, and Mr Woodhead visited Barking and Dagenham, east London, where similar methods adopted from European countries are used.

Prof Reynolds, of the University of Newcastle, said: "There is no evidence to support what the traditionalists are saying about the effectiveness of whole-class instruction. It is whole-class interactive instruction that is the key. Going reactively towards whole-class instruction is as silly as going to group work as a reaction against whole-class teaching."

His report on Britain's maths performance over the last 25 years will be published by the Office for Standards in Education later this month.

Prof Reynolds said more research was needed on what methods worked, and its findings should be incorporated in teacher training courses.

His report will say that low proportion of whole-class teaching in Britain's schools is not the only reason for low standards. British teaching methods are also too complicated.

They can cause "chaos" with teachers switching from whole-class teaching to groups based on ability in one subject to a mixed-ability group in another.

Another complication is that there may be several adults, such as parents and classroom assistants, in a classroom whom the teacher has to manage.

The report will also emphasise that some of the reasons for Taiwanese success are cultural, not educational. Taiwanese pupils are more successful

because their culture is geared to hard work.

Mr Woodhead and Mrs Shephard said the Barking and Dagenham experiment, which uses whole-class maths teaching in primary schools, should lead to the methods spreading.

Mr Woodhead said: "I was very impressed by what I saw. The pupils we observed were concentrating intensely."