THE Government has told local education authorities to expose schools which have refused to set themselves ambitious targets for improved exam results.
It wants schools to be publicly identified in council documents for failing to aim high enough in numeracy, literacy and GCSE.
Councils have no legal power to force schools to improve the targets that they have been set by governors. But the Department for Education and Employment believes exposing the under-ambitious schools will force them to act.
David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, has staked his job on 80 per cent of 11-year-olds performing at the expected level in English and 75 per cent in maths by 2002.
Ministers have told councils to identify schools that have set "insufficiently challenging" targets by a special code - the letter Y - in each authority's education development plan - the authority-wide strategies for raising standards.
Targets for schools in education action zones are to be more challenging than those for other schools.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "I deplore any attempt to name and shame schools which haven't set targets which in the opinion of the local authority are sufficiently challenging.
"We have had quite enough bruising and bullying from local authorities on target setting."
He said some councils had told their schools that Government would cut the authority's funding unless the targets were agreed.
Mr Hart added: "Schools are setting the targets which are achievable."
Local authorities feel they have been forced into an impossible position.
Christine Whatford, president of the Society of Education Officers, said:
"Once the Government decided that governors were going to be responsible for the targets and that local authorities could not change them, there needed to be a mechanism to register disagreement."
Education development plans have to be approved by the DFEE by the end of this month.
Early analysis of more than 40 by officials from the DFEE's standards and effectiveness unit has revealed serious flaws.
Sheila Scales, a senior civil servant at the DFEE, said some authorities did not even have a literacy action plan.
She told the Society of Education Officers' conference in Harrogate last week that proposals for supporting schools and working with underachieving groups were "patchy" while plans for disseminating good practice were "weak".
Civil servants have graded the plans 1-4, highlighting particular strengths and weaknesses.
In some cases councils have been told that the aggregate targets of their schools are as much as 3.5 per cent adrift of the literacy and numeracy targets set by the Government.
The ruling comes in new guidance issued to councils. Local authorities criticised its tone at the SEO conference, prompting an apology from Sheila Scales.
She said: "It is clear in recent communications we have given offence to local authorities. I am sorry because it is really important that we maintain dialogue."
Councils also complained that information on their gradings was leaking out.
One authority said the inspector who is due to inspect it knew of its grading before the council did. Another discovered what its grading was from a neighbouring authority.