Stand by your target

Whether you are 11 or 64, the Government has a goal for you. Robert Mendick takes aim

It may have been the Tories who introduced the first targets for education and training in 1991, but it's the Labour Government which has embraced them with fervour.

The latest set of goals were launched amid a fanfare of publicity on October 28. Nobody escapes.

From 11-year-old children to the fullest-grown adults up to the age of 64; from the smallest family-run firm to the largest of corporations; we all have targets. The Government has decreed what must be achieved by 2002.

For the first time - and hogging most of the headlines - the Department for Education and Employment issued targets for 16-year-olds.

The Government, while resisting the temptation to introduce an average points score target for GCSEs, has pledged that by 2002, half of 16-year-olds will have achieved five GCSEs with grades A to C while 95 per cent will have at least one GCSE pass.

The second target is expected to be the tougher nut to crack. This year, 38,000 16-year-olds left school with no qualifications. Although that was 7,000 fewer than the previous year, there are real worries about the numbers of young people being left behind in a modern Britain, where the emphasis is on a highly-skilled workforce.

The National Advisory Council for Education and Training Targets (NACETT) is the independent advisory body set up in 1993 to monitor progress towards targets and to advise the Government on what the targets should be.

In Fast Forward for Skills, its glossy eight-page summary report on the 2002 targets, NACETT, chief consultant on the issue, details 11 main conclusions and recommendations, most of which the Government has taken up.

Perhaps, not surprisingly then, NACETT described the latest goals as "both challenging and realistic". But not everyone is convinced.

The National Association of Head Teachers said the GCSE targets "can hardly be described as ambitious. They certainly cannot be called challenging despite Government claims to the contrary. It would be extremely disappointing, to put it mildly, if the target of 50 per cent was not exceeded by the time of the next election."

The latest targets stem from NACETT's 1997 annual report, entitled Skills for 2000, which recommended a review of the goals set as Britain strove to catch up with competitor nations in certain areas of education and training.

The Government published a consultation document in December 1997 and, having taken many of NACETT's proposals on board, came up with the targets announced last week.

The GCSE targets drew the headlines but NACETT's recommendations were wide-ranging affecting, principally, students at age 11, 16, 19 and 21. Organisations, large and small, have their own targets for Investors in People awards.

Meanwhile, Labour's continuing pursuit of targets has earned it criticism from the opposition and teaching unions, both of whom are calling for more resources for teaching and less emphasis on goal-setting.

"Setting targets is the easy part," says Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of teachers' union NASUWT. "Nobody could possibly object to the ambition of more youngsters getting at least five good GCSE passes." His concern was that teaching should be made more attractive as a profession to recruit high calibre people to ensure the goals were reached.

NACETT admits in its concluding paragraphs in Fast Forward for Skills:

"Setting the right targets is not the end of the story. It is only the beginning. We must then ensure that we hit those targets. Targets are valuable only if they attract widespread support and lead to action."

Last word, page 112

Targets for education and training for 2002

(Current levels in brackets) * 95 per cent (93.4) of 16-year-olds with one GCSE pass

* 50 per cent (46.1) with five GCSEs, grades A to C

* 80 per cent (65) of 11-year-olds at expected standard for their age in literacy

* 75 per cent (59) of 11-year-olds to reach standard in numeracy

* 85 per cent (72) of 19-year-olds with five GCSEs, grades A to C or vocational equivalent

* 60 per cent (50) of 21-year-olds with two A-levels or the vocational equivalent

* 50 per cent (42) of all adults to have two A-levels or the vocational equivalent

* 28 per cent (25) of adults to have a degree

* 45 per cent (18) of mediumlarge-sized firms ie 50 or more employees recognised as Investors in People

* 10,000 (2,695) small firms recognised as Investors in People

The bulk of the DFEE's latest targets for education and training are based on recommendations laid out in 'Fast Forward for Skills', produced by The National Advisory Council for Education and Training Targets, and available from Prolog, PO Box 5050, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 6ZQ or phone 0845 60 222 60

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