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Changes to education show little impact: Survey offers ministers no comfort

PRIMARY school pupils spend no more time on the 'Three Rs' than they did before the national curriculum was introduced, research has revealed. Despite changes that have cost pounds 750m, parents are no more or less happy with their children's schools. They would rather see money spent on reducing class sizes.

The new curriculum has had limited impact, researchers from the Economic and Social Research Council told the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement Science in Loughborough yesterday. Primary school children still spend only eight minutes a week on average reading aloud to an adult in class - the same as they did in 1985.

By comparing two classes from 22 inner London primary schools in 1985 and 1993, Ian Plewis and Marijcke Veltman, from the Institute of Education in London, found that there was no change in the time devoted to reading, writing and maths. They both accounted for 43 per cent of class time.

The researchers concluded: 'If reading aloud to an adult is the most effective way of teaching a child to read, then the introduction of the national curriculum is unlikely by itself to raise reading standards.' This result, they note drily, 'needs to be seen in the context of the concern about reading standards which was investigated by the House of Commons Education, Science and Arts Committee in 1991'.

Although parents are often portrayed as dissatisfied a second ESRC study found that 88 per cent were happy with their children's schools. Professor Martin Hughes, of the University of Exeter, said that, 'in promoting its radical reforms, the Government has frequently used the notion that parents are unhappy with the standard of their children's education. In fact, the level of satisfaction among parents has not changed from before the introduction of the national curriculum.'

Professor Hughes and his team had studied seven-year- olds and their parents in 40 schools in London, Bristol and south-west England. When asked what should be done to improve standards, the most frequently mentioned remedies were smaller classes, more teachers, more equipment, and more money spent on school buildings. There were fewer calls for a return to basics or to traditional teachering methods.

A third study, of the impact of the national curriculum on science and mathematics education, also made bleak reading for the Government. It concluded that the most effective way of raising standards was to invest in teachers, helping them to improve their knowledge of underlying concepts and the steps taken by pupils in learning.

The ESRC Centre for Micro-Social Change is at the University of Essex not the University of Exeter as stated in early editions of yesterday's newspaper.

British Association, page 13