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Sharpen targets with a pencil

"TARGET-SETTING" is a phrase guaranteed to bring a smile to even the most tired teacher's face. According to the Education Secretary, targets have produced "massive improvements" but we "need an approach that values children's individual progression more".

So how do schools set targets? Many use PIPs tests - booklets with about 1,000 complete-the-pattern questions. The school grinds to a halt for a week while pupils tick boxes and teachers mark. Three weeks later, the ICT co-ordinator produces lists of predictive levels and graphs. Teachers then file these under a big pile of unmarked RE folders, where they will remain until the end of the year.

One of my colleagues suggests a simpler approach: the pencil-case method.

Ask your class to get a pencil out of their pencil case. Those who reach into their cases and produce one will get level 4. Those who have to borrow one from a friend are borderline level 34. If they try to steal one from someone on their table, that's level 3. Those who stare at the ceiling, level 2. If there is anyone with one of those metal geometry-set tins, that's a guaranteed level 5.

There are many variations on this method. If you hand out a worksheet, most classes will divide themselves neatly into four groups. Those who read it, those who leave it on the desk, those who put it on their head and pretend it's a hat, and those who try to eat it. My favoured method is to ask children what their favourite video is. Those who cite the latest children's blockbuster will achieve their targets. Those who don't have a TV at home because "mummy thinks they are a bad influence" are guaranteed to sail through Sats. The third group will regale you with discussion of highly unsuitable videos.

Under the new Improving Schools scheme, classes are divided into "must", "should" and "could" groups and half-termly targets are displayed in the classroom. The "won't" and "can't be arsed" levels seem to have been missed off. Teachers spend the first week of the term introducing the targets, week 2 teaching them, weeks 3, 4 and 5 rehearsing for the school nativity, week 6 assessing pupils, and the holidays wondering why the coloured graphs for their class look like a black run in the Alps - straight down, sheer drop.

So what is the end result in all this target-setting? What happens to all the marked Sats papers and assessments at the end of primary school? Secondary teachers also have a place for storing the results of all those pupils who have reached level 4 English but can't write a full sentence.

I'll give you some clues. It's not on the desk - it's underneath. And every secondary school always exceeds its targets for recycling paper.

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