HALF of the primary heads surveyed by The TES say they will fall short of their own targets in this year's national tests for 11-year-olds.
The country's Year 6 pupils sat tests in maths, English and science in May. But a representative poll of 70 schools found that 35 heads do not expect to reach their targets in either maths or English.
Improved primary standards are at the heart of the Government's education policy. It wants 80 per cent of primary-leavers to reach level 4 in English this year. In maths, the target is 75 per cent. But the TES poll suggests there could be a shortfall of 2 to 3 per cent in both subjects, although there should be an improvement on last year's figures.
The national target is divided into local authority targets. Councils then agree targets with individual schools.
Schools contacted by The TES were asked to predict how their pupils had fared in the key stage 2 tests.
They have set an average target of 78.8 per cent of pupils to reach level 4 in English but predict that only 76.1 per cent will reach this level. In maths, the average target was 79 per cent and schools predict 77 per cent will reach it.
If a similar shortfall is reflected nationally, 77.3 per cent of pupils will reach level 4 in English and 73 per cent in maths.
The Office for Standards in Education has warned that reaching the 2002 targets will be a "significant challenge" following last year's results when English scores stalled at 75 per cent and maths fell one percentage point to 71 per cent.
Heads and governors report enormous pressure to set targets which they know their children will struggle to reach. Richard Varney, head at St Michael's East Wickham C of E primary in Welling, Kent, said: "No allowance is given for any fluctuation in ability year on year."
Jane Phillips, chairwoman of the National Association of Governors and Managers, said: "Some targets are just not realistic. I am quite certain some schools have given up the unequal struggle and go with whatever the target is, knowing full well it won't be met."
The results of the 2002 KS2 tests will not be published until September. But the Government is already looking ahead to 2004, when it wants 85 per cent of pupils to reach level 4 and 35 per cent to reach level 5 in maths and English.
The 2004 targets have added to growing discontent among heads and local education authorities.
Cornwall has openly rebelled, refusing to accept "demotivating" targets. It still has no published target for 2004.
Graham Lane, education chairman of the Local Government Association, said other authorities were unhappy. "Targets should be based on previous achievement of students, you don't just ratchet them up 2 per cent every year, that is not meaningful," he said.
But the Department for Education and Skills said: "Ministers remain confident that we can achieve the 2002 targets."
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