New Year, new target

The new target-setting culture promises to open up a whole new set of challenges between governing bodies and headteachers and - ultimately - parents when they realise what's happening.

By placing the legal responsibility for setting targets firmly in the hands of individual school governing bodies, politicians have made it clear that school performance is no longer the province of professionals only. Governing bodies, whether they like it or not, are going to have to take ownership of this sensitive area of the curriculum. And headteachers will have to come to terms with being professionally accountable to their governors for pupil achievement: consulting them early and keeping them informed.

Target-setting puts the issue of school performance more firmly on the agenda than ever before. A pity, then, that there is still so much confusion over the roles and responsibilities of headteachers and governing bodies. Almost all the information available to schools refers to the governing body "setting targets". The government circular sent to schools earlier this term states: "Higher standards will only be achieved if schools take responsibility for their own improvement and full ownership of the target-setting process within their own institution. That is why governing bodies will have the legal duty to set school targets."

To get to the heart of the governing body's precise legal responsibilities, look at the 1997 Education Act, which was responsible for the introduction of target-setting. There, in a convoluted paragraph, is a statement that governing bodies must "secure that annual targets are set in respect of the performance of pupils".

Is "securing that targets are set" the same as "setting targets"? Surely no one ever seriously imagined that governors should devise the academic targets for their schools themselves?

Equally, it is clearly unacceptable for governing bodies to be expected to rubber-stamp targets devised by professionals without first understanding how those targets have been arrived at, what they mean for the particular group of pupils, how the targets compare with similar schools, what the resource implications are for the school, how parents will be kept informed, and most importantly, how the school is going to ensure that the targets are met.

Such an exhaustive sharing of information will take time. Has enough time been set aside for governors' detailed discussion with headteachers before December 31? Governing bodies can, if they wish, delegate the task of agreeing targets to a sub-committee but the regulations are clear that this important task cannot be delegated to an individual; in other words to either the headteacher or chair of governors. It is meant to be a collective responsibility for which ultimately governing bodies will be accountable when the time comes to compare school targets against performance. And that time is only 18 months away.

By the summer of 2000, those pupils in both primary and secondary schools for whom targets are now being set will have taken their tests and examinations and governors' annual reports to parents will, for the first time, have to explain whether the targets were met - and if not, why not.

It is going to be a steep learning curve for everyone.

Vivienne Barton is a Brighton governor and governor trainer. She writes in a personal capacity.


The percentage of pupils who by the end of key stage 2 in the year 2000 will achieve:

* level 4 or above in national curriculum tests in English;

* level 4 or above in national curriculum tests in mathematics. (These are pupils who are currently in Year 5)

The percentage of pupils who in the final year of compulsory education in 2000 will achieve:

* 5-plus GCSEs at grades A*-C or equivalent vocational qualifications or a combination of both; and

* 1 or more GCSE at grades A*-G or equivalent vocational qualifications or a combination of both

* the average GCSE (or equivalent) points score. (These are pupils who are currently in Year 10)

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