THE INSPECTORATE'S favourite education authority has made a little-noticed move to reject Government-style targets for primary and early secondary.
Instead East Renfrewshire, highly praised by HMI last year, has gone its own way. Controversially, it has decided that 5-14 targets should be derived from targets set for Standard grade Credit and General passes because of the importance for fourth-year results of pupil performance in primary school and the first two years of secondary.
"We had to revive some of our heads after we told them that," Bill Coyle, the council's school management officer, told secondary headteachers this week at their national spring conference.
The authority's target of five or more Standard grade 1-4 passes is already set at 88 per cent, 11 per cent above the national level.
East Renfrewshire, a highly advantaged authority dominated by leafy suburbs, believes its generally high-performing schools have to do better than expected if they are to stay at the top.
The authority has therefore decided to maintain the differential with national averages which means 90 per cent of primary pupils and 85 per cent of secondary 1 and secondary 2 pupils achieving their 5-14 levels in reading, writing and maths. These are 10 per cent above the national targets, to be achieved over the next three years.
"The performance of pupils at Standard grade depends on how well they do in second year," Mr Coyle said, "and that depends on their progress in primary school."
The Scottish Office approach simply sets a national benchmark of 80 per cent of primary pupils and 75 per cent of S1-S2 pupils achieving 5-14 levels. Most pupils are far below these standards, so schools are allowed to halve the gap between current attainment levels and the targets.
The East Renfrewshire alternative is illustrated in the case of Williamwood High, whose Standard grade 1-4 target is 95 per cent. The two associated primaries, Carolside and Netherlee, were set the same initial target for 5-14. The authority then checked the schools against those in similar neighbourhoods with similar characteristics (based on actual clothing grants, not assumed free meals).
That led to the targets for Williamwood's primaries being pushed up to 97 per cent. Others such as Carlibar primary, linked to Barrhead High, had their 5-14 target reduced from 75 per cent to 70 per cent.
Mr Coyle said it was essential that the exam performance of boys was improved if schools were to meet targets. He revealed figures, which startled the heads present, showing that even boys from the most advantaged homes are trailing girls by a wide margin.
In Mearns Castle High, only 39 per cent of boys achieved five or more Standard grade Credit awards in 1997 compared with 78 per cent of girls, although the gap was narrowed last year to 58 per cent and 70 per cent.
At Higher grade, St Luke's High was the only one of the council's seven secondaries where boys achieved their target last year - largely because of a good fourth year in 1997.
East Renfrewshire is now concentrating on getting boys to complete projects, hand in homework - and simply turn up.