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Pledge to back target-breakers

Frances Rafferty and Nicolas Barnard report from the National Association of Head Teachers' conference

The Government is riding roughshod over teachers by forcing through targets made for political, rather than educational reasons, headteachers claim.

NAHT delegates said it was not a coincidence that many of the targets have to be met by the year 2002 - the date of the next election.

Mick Brooks, head of Sherwood junior school, Nottingham, told delegates to say no to their local education authority if they disagreed with the literacy and numeracy targets set for their school. He said his school had been given a target of 85 per cent of children reaching the required literacy level but 25 per cent were had special needs. He urged delegates to stand up against unrealistic targets.

Brian McNutt, speaking for the north west region, said he was sick of the "big stick" approach to target setting which was turning schools into examination factories.

The NAHT policy is to support heads who defy imposed targets. Ministers say schools should set them, but councils who have agreed their own set of targets with the Government are putting pressure on schools to deliver.

David Hart, general secretary, predicted uproar when secondary heads learn they are expected to set targets for key stage 3 tests and GSCEs this September.

Heads said they objected to the imposition of initiative after initiative and were political pawns in the Government's bid for re-election. "The Government has set itself live or die targets and we have to deliver them,'' said one delegate.

Chris McDonnell, head of Fulfen primary school, Burntwood, Litchfield, told the conference: "A secondary head phoned me a couple of weeks ago. He told me how tired he was of no longer feeling in control of his own establishment. So much was was being done to him from the outside be it by the local authority or Department for Education and Employment that he no longer had the enthusiasm to make it work".

Derby delegate Peter Angus said his local authority had told heads their targets for 2002 were not negotiable, although those for intervening years were. And in a quid pro quo for receiving pound;1 million to cut class sizes, the council was told to set targets for 2002 for seven-year-olds - children who were now still in nappies.

The NAHT is critical of the Government's decision to set a national literacy target and then expect schools to deliver it. But school standards minister Stephen Byers said the target was "reasonable and realistic'' - and backed by pound;47.5 million this year.

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