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Ministers fail to hit most of their targets

Government criticised as study reveals objective shortfall, reports Jon Slater

More than half the education targets set by ministers during Labour's first two years in office will be missed, the Government admitted this week.

The list includes high-profile disappointments such as the failure to hit primary literacy and numeracy targets, which helped prompt the resignation of Estelle Morris as Education Secretary. Less well known targets on truancy and less able pupils' GCSE results have also been missed.

Only four of the nine targets have been hit, with four already missed and another likely to be, says a government report. Three of those already met were hit early but critics say two are open to dispute.

Despite cutting permanent exclusions by a third in the three years to 19992000 two years ahead of target, pressure from schools to make exclusion easier has resulted in a change of policy. Exclusions have since risen to more than 700 above the target level.

The class-size target is also counted as a hit, despite more than 10,000 infants still being in classes of more than 30 pupils.

Damian Green, Conservative education spokesman, said: "I think this is a lamentable performance. Missing half the targets when you have set them yourself is spectacularly bad. When you look underneath the figures the position is even worse."

Ministers can point to some progress towards almost all the targets. The exception is truancy, where after four years and despite the first-ever jailing of a parent for failing to ensure their child attended school, the proportion of days missed has remained unchanged.

Education Secretary Charles Clarke admitted to The TES soon after his appointment that there were too many targets but said he would retain the central ones at ages 11 and 16 (TES, November 1).

The Government this year cut the truancy target to a 10 per cent reduction by 2004 and many of the aims set out in 2000 will be downgraded to "supporting targets".

New key stage 2 figures showed fresh problems with English results falling in 68 authorities, compared to just 49 in which they improved. In science, 95 of England's 150 LEAs reported lower results.

Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, said: "The whole target culture is wrong, for students as well as the system."

Autumn Performance Report 2002



* Nursery places for 66 per cent of three-year-olds by 2002.

* All infant class sizes cut to 30 or below by September 2001.

* Permanent exclusions reduced from 12,500 to 8,400 per year by 2002

* 50 per cent of 16-year-olds to gain five or more A* to C GCSEs by 2002 Misses

* 95 per cent of 16-year-olds to gain at least one GCSE grade G or equivalent by 2004 (actual figure: 94.5 per cent )

* Increase the proportion of 11-year-olds reaching level 4 in literacy to 80 per cent (75 per cent ) and numeracy to 75 per cent (73 per cent ) by 2002

* Cut truancy by a third (static) Likely to be missed

* 85 per cent of 19-year-olds to achieve the equivalent of five or more A*-C grade GCSEs by 2002 (74.6 per cent this spring)

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