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Let support be your watchword

When the Government was first elected a decade ago, Michael Barber, then adviser to the education secretary, argued that schools should be subject to "pressure and support". The same is true of teachers and children. But a balance between the two is vital if they are to improve and progress. So reports that four-year-olds in the Government's Intensifying Support Programme feel under too much pressure as they try to meet their individual improvement targets are worrying.

The story is a familiar one of well-intentioned officials being spurred on by statistics which suggest that children who fall behind as infants will struggle to catch up. The aim of the programme is to raise results in schools where fewer than two-thirds of pupils achieve the Government's expected level at the age of 11. These are children who desperately need all the help we can offer them.

In some schools, the scheme is working well. Research for the Government found that it had the backing of a clear majority of heads. But in other places, local authorities and hard-pressed heads have clearly got the balance of pressure and support wrong. They are imposing unrealistic targets for four and five-year-olds without consulting their teachers and the result is demotivating for all.

The other question mark over the scheme is its concentration on middle-ability children. They are being pushed to reach the expected standard at the age of 11. The drive to ratchet up test scores for league tables may be understandable, but it is hardly fair on other pupils.

In his vision for the future, outlined in this week's TES, Michael Barber sees targets and detailed data about individual pupils as the key to ending failure in education. Of course, they have a place, but they must be used wisely and well. Targets can be demoralising. Children are people, not just individual pupil data with "special learning challenges".

Teachers shouldn't spend hours measuring and reporting on their pupils at the expense of teaching. They won't get the results the Government wants unless they, not the data, play a part in deciding what is best for their pupils.

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