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Some authorities unhappy with provisional targets

Secondary schools returned from holiday in some parts of the country this week to find an Easter present from the Government in the form of their provisional Standard and Higher grade targets. Critics have not been slow to emerge.

The latest chapter in the Government's offensive to drive up standards was launched by Donald Dewar, the Scottish Secretary, at Glenwood High in Glenrothes on Wednesday.

The provisional figures were actually released to education authorities. They must now agree with their schools whether the provisional targets, which will not be published, are reasonable or not. The targets are based on each school's free meal entitlement, a contentious decision which has aroused the ire of secondary heads and has already led to doubts among authorities.

Aberdeen says the figures show a major discrepancy between the free school meal entitlement in the city and other similar areas.

Officials have found there are 53 per cent fewer free meals in secondaries than primaries, a drop-off rate significantly higher than the 19 per cent in Glasgow and the 39 per cent in Edinburgh.

John Stodter, Aberdeen's director of education, says if there is a significant underestimate of free meal entitlement in the city's secondaries "it means that free school meals as the sole measure for establishing targets is unreliable in Aberdeen. And if it's unreliable here in Aberdeen, there must also be question marks elsewhere" His department's analysis suggests targets in four or five secondary catchments could be adrift because of confusion over free meals.

Michael O'Neill, director of education in North Lanarkshire, shares the concern over the free meal indicator. His initial reaction was that "for some schools the targets will be achievable. But for others they will be a significant mountain to climb."

David Cameron, performance review manager in Fife's education department, said the school targets he had looked at revealed no surprises. Ken Arthur, head of specialist services in South Lanarkshire education department, said their targets "seem to be reasonable".

The question marks over free meals, however, have reinforced calls, repeated by Mr Stodter and Mr Cameron, for the Scottish Office to move as a priority to an assessment based value-added system. The inspectorate already has this work in hand.

Final targets must be agreed by schools and authorities and submitted to the HMI audit unit by June 5. Further provisional targets for primaries and secondary 2 will be issued in September, covering 5-14 reading, writing and maths.

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