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Heads told what toexpect on targets

The head of the Inspectorate has taken what he calls the "unusual" step of writing directly to all headteachers alerting them of the need to prepare for target setting.

Douglas Osler says heads should reserve space in their development plans for "action to raise attainment". The timetable for target setting was agreed yesterday (Thursday) by the Education Minister's action group on standards.

The details will be revealed to education conveners and directors at a seminar on March 4. Shelagh Rae, president of the Association of Directors of Education, said directors would be concerned if there was "overprescription". The issue was not target setting itself but the way it was done. "Education authorities must have the freedom to discuss targets in partnership with their schools and not simply confirm those laid down by the centre."

Mrs Rae said: "If there was room for negotiation between an authority and its schools and between authorities and the Scottish Office, that would be acceptable."

Targets for improving Higher and Standard grade performance will be issued to schools in early April and confirmed by education authorities to HMI's audit unit in early June. For 5-14 attainment, schools will complete surveys between early April and the second Friday in June. Provisional targets will be issued between October and November and then confirmed by education authorities.

The composition of the targets is also now clear, if complex. The Scottish Office will use the school characteristics index to identify schools of similar nature. For each school a "starting level" will be fixed by averaging its last three years' attainment. Then, using the similar attainment from the 10 schools immediately above it, a benchmark will be produced. The position of a school's starting level in relation to the benchmark will show the scope for improvement.

For many schools the provisional target will be the equivalent of the scope for improvement, and no provisional target will be lower than the average improvement across all schools over the past three years. No provisional target will be higher than the level of improvement needed for the school to have been in the top 10 per cent of all schools.

It will be up to each school to decide with its education authority what level of improvement appears in its development plan. In most cases that will be the provisional target, but it could be higher. It could also be up to 1 per cent lower unless that put the school below the minimum target.

A Scottish Office paper for the action group meeting emphasises: "The targets that will be set by schools are not an end in themselves. They are a focus for planning for improvement. Having set targets, schools will have to plan how they are to be achieved."

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