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Deadline put back for target-setting

Labour's standards campaign is to embrace the Tories' emphasis on individual schools' achievements, reports Frances Rafferty

The Government is expected to delay by a year the deadline for schools setting their individual performance targets, in order to include them in next month's White Paper on standards.

Each governing body is required by the Education Act 1997 to set performance targets for its pupils in all public examinations and key stage assessments, and make them public. It was thought regulations requiring the targets would be in place by the autumn term. But the Government prefers the delay in order to make the targets part of its own standards campaign.

The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority has attempted to identify "national templates": categories of schools by which governing bodies can measure themselves in relation to national averages.

But Michael Barber, the newly-appointed head of the Department for Education and Employment's standards and effectiveness unit, will be in charge of the standards initiative and will oversee the White Paper.

Although SCAA has arrived at some national benchmarks suggesting what different kinds of schools ought to achieve, setting local targets is believed to be more complex and potentially sensitive politically. The assessment authority is considering various criteria and categories of school based on the percentage of pupils on free school meals, with English as their second language or having special educational needs.

Governing bodies will have to identify where their school fits within these categories and look at their place within the distribution of these indicators. They will also be given data from the DFEE on national exam results.

SCAA says this information will not tell a school what its targets should be, but it should help governors make a judgment.

The Government is wary of making a direct link between poverty and educational performance. Analysis so far shows that schools with similar poverty indicators have very different results. And the inspection service has also discovered that evaluating a school's performance in relation to the social make-up (unemployment rates, for example) of the ward it is in can be misleading.

The former Conservative government resisted making a link between poverty and exam results. The new Government intends to tackle areas of under-achievement by setting up education action zones. The White Paper will give more details, but ministers say these zones will not necessarily coincide with areas of social deprivation.

The delay has been welcomed by the teacher unions. David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "I am delighted at the possibility of setting back the starting date for completing target-setting. A great deal of work needs to be done and if the new Government wants a partnership on tackling standards then it must allow for sufficient consultation."

John Sutton, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said many of his members say they already set targets as part of their management strategies. He said: "If they are going to set them it makes sense to take time to get them right."

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