Unions welcome review of school targets

Teaching unions have warmly welcomed plans to review the system of school targets to take better account of individual pupils’ progress.

Education secretary Alan Johnson said yesterday that threshold targets detailing how many pupils achieve five GCSEs at A* to C grades “do not tell the whole story”.

They were guilty of “concealing tales of amazing achievement on the one hand and substantial groups of disadvantaged kids left behind on the other”, he told a meeting of head teachers.

He added: “Threshold targets focus everything on a narrow time and performance window, failing to take account of potential or progress over a longer period.”

The government’s Every Child Matters agenda must ensure that “every child progresses”, Mr Johnson said. As a result, he said incentives, targets and information about performance must be better focused on individual, not class, performance.

“If someone with the potential for eight A-grade GCSEs only achieves five moderate passes, then that is not a success,” he said.

“But if someone expected to achieve nothing gets their English and maths GCSE, then we should recognise that achievement by the individual and the school.”

The education secretary stressed that threshold targets were “here to stay”, but said his department would consult on how they could be improved, for example by looking at school performance in terms of the total number of pupils making progress at each stage.

“I have a genuinely open mind about whether or how a progression measure might supplement our existing threshold measure,” he continued.

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said the announcement showed ministers were “at last facing up to the obvious” – that national targets were in “direct contradiction” with the move towards personalised education.

“But [Mr Johnson] needs to go further. League tables are not inevitable. Other countries have shown they can do without them. They should go,” he said.

He added: “Parents want change. There is an increasing consensus that tests, targets and tables are undermining education and endangering the mental health of children.”

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the government’s review of targets was “long overdue”.

“The threshold measure of the proportion of pupils with five or more high-grade GCSEs has produced perverse incentives for schools. It skews policy and forces schools to allocate scarce resources to particular areas,” he said.

“A measure based on the progress that each individual student makes from one key stage to the next represents a step towards a more intelligent accountability system, as ASCL has long advocated.”