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Nine targets take a tweak

The Scottish Executive has quietly dropped a range of targets, including those on school attendance, health-promoting schools and 5-14 test results.

It means schools will be under less pressure to demonstrate specific achievements, including attainment levels.

Although the move was quietly buried in the details of the Executive's draft budget for 2005-06, a spokesperson insisted it had been trailed in advance. Andy Kerr, the former Finance Minister, had said in his spending statement last month that the targets of all ministries would be made "significantly more meaningful".

The First Minister's official spokesperson said this week that some targets had been dropped because they had been met or superseded by more meaningful targets. "We need targets that we can work to and can actually demonstrate delivery on the ground," she added.

For schools and education, this means nine targets have been changed or axed. They include full implementation of the teachers' agreement by 2006.

The aim of a 10 per cent reduction between average attendance levels in schools serving the most affluent and poorest areas by 2006, and to close the gap by another 10 per cent by 2008, has been dropped.

Another aim, to expand integrated community schools and health-promoting schools across the country by 2007, has also gone. So too has the plan to increase the nutritional value of school meals and increase take-up by 2006.

The Executive describes these four as having given way to "the prioritisation of more strategic targets". But it says that performance will be monitored through to 2006 in each case, and that policy undertakings given in the partnership agreement between the ruling Labour and Liberal Democrat parties would be honoured.

A more central impact will be felt by schools as a result of changes to the 5-14 and Standard grade targets. The Executive had wanted to see, by 2006, a 5 per cent increase in the numbers achieving 5-14 levels and a similar rise in the figure for those with five or more passes at Standard grades 1-2 Intermediate 2 by the end of S6.

The Executive has now substituted this with a much less specific new target of increasing "the average tariff score of the lowest attaining 20 per cent of S4 pupils by 5 per cent by March 2008".

An even weaker target is set to replace the previous one which anticipated that by 2006 there should be a 15 per cent reduction in the proportion of pupils failing to reach level C in P7, level D in S2 and five passes or more at Standard grades 3-4Intermediate 1 by the end of S6.

The importance of attainment on its own will now be significantly diminished to reflect even-handedness across all the five national education priorities. Local authorities will simply be expected to have targets in place - without being told what they should be - and then report on progress by 2006 and set new targets by April 2007.

A spokesperson for the Executive suggested these new targets were intended to be "sensible, transparent, robust and properly hold the Executive to account". It meant "moving to what really matters - a delivery and output-driven system, rather than simple input figures".

A report containing full details on all the targets would be published in due course.

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