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Director slams 'crude' targets

Aberdeen warns minister that special needs and learning problems will be hit

The Government has been accused by a Labour-run authority of undermining its own policies on inclusion by "crude and potentially damaging" target-setting.

John Stodter, director of education in Aberdeen, has written a strongly worded letter to Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, calling for an alternative approach which involves baseline assessment and value-added measures. His comments, which focus particularly on the barriers likely to be faced by pupils with learning problems, follow sharp criticism of the targets by Scotland's secondary heads last week.

The Scottish Office has made clear that its target-setting plans, based on comparisons with schools in similar circumstances using free meals as a poverty indicator, will be preceded by consultation and superseded eventually by a more sophisticated value-added regime.

Aberdeen believes that pupils with special needs and learning problems could lose out in the meantime and Mr Stodter has told Mr Wilson: "If nothing is done, schools will inevitably resist inclusion initiatives which will be perceived to undermine their ability to meet targets." Troublesome pupils could face formal or informal exclusion as a result of the "drive to improvement".

But the Inspectorate stresses that schools with a significant proportion of special needs pupils could claim "exceptional circumstances" and have their targets modified. This would apply mainly to the requirement that all secondary schools should have 96 per cent of their fourth-year pupils achieving a Standard grade 1-6 in English and maths within the next three years.

But Mr Stodter complains: "Such an opting-out approach represents a deficit model which emphasises what pupils cannot do and which introduces targets, but only for some children."

The Inspectorate has appointed a national development officer to adapt target-setting for special schools and for pupils in mainstream schools. This, HMI says, will focus on a "positive outlook" of improving attainment rather than guarding against adverse effects on the rest of the pupil population.

The work should be ready by December.

There should be no major differences for most schools, HMI believes, because the targets start from schools' existing levels of performance. Special needs pupils, in other words, contribute to that performance, they are therefore included in the targets, and the overall effect should be broadly neutral.

Mr Stodter told The TES Scotland: "The Scottish Office is obviously trying to accommodate problems within the model. The problem, however, is with the model."

Mr Stodter calls for baseline assessment and valued-added approaches, involving an assessment of every child, which can then be aggregated up to class, school, authority and Scotland level, allowing value added comparisons to be made.

Aberdeen is developing its own system of performance indicators for primary schools in association with Durham University. Mr Stodter says it is being greeted with enthusiasm by teachers because it is "quick and simple and provides hard information on pupils shortly after they enter school".

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