Schools research 'is waste of money'

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The Independent Online
Taxpayers are paying between pounds 50m and pounds 60m for education research that comes up with blindingly obvious results, Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools said yesterday.

In his first speech since he was endorsed by Tony Blair, the Labour leader, Mr Woodhead, repeated his attacks on the education establishment which have led critics to accuse him of aligning himself with traditionalist right-wingers.

In a lecture to the Royal Geographical Society, Mr Woodhead had a message for Mr Blair: "The key responsibility facing the next government, whatever its political hue, is to ensure that the old orthodoxies and systems continue to be challenged."

A review of recent research, he said, revealed that "effective leadership" in school is usually "firm and purposeful" and that successful schools "are more likely to be calm rather than chaotic places".

And a pounds 750,000 project last year came up with conclusions that pre-school children learn a lot if they are properly taught and that pupils make little progress in maths and science if they have failed to grasp the basic concepts.

"Do such blindingly obvious statements constitute a proper return for taxpayers' money?" he said.

He issued a strong warning against giving local authorities too much power to intervene in schools, in apparent contradiction of both Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, and David Blunkett, her Labour shadow.

There was a danger that "the business of advice and support will become an industry and will begin to generate a new set of orthodoxies", he said.

But Professor Ted Wragg, of Exeter University's department of education, said: "Ofsted reports cost millions and they are full of banalities, many of which are uttered by Chris Woodhead. It is easy to pick off general conclusions to research projects which are full of detail."

t Robin Squire, the schools' minister, said yesterday that the Government had no plans to change governing bodies' powers to decide the length of the school day.

His remarks run counter to reports that the Prime Minister wants proposals to lengthen the school day to form part of the manifesto. Labour said Mr Squire's announcement showed the confusion in the Government's education policy.