Standards can be lifted. But Dick Lynas warns that all strategies - fair or foul - have a downside
Target-setting as a means of raising standards is here to stay. The question is what criteria will be used in setting targets and what priorities should accordingly be set within school development plans. Given the current focus on examination targets, headteachers should consider adopting some or all of the following priorities as a means of meetings and indeed surpassing the targets they have been set. But first a health warning. Each priority could have its downside. I leave you to figure out what it might be in each case.
Ensure that every pupil entering S1 is issued with a free meals application form. Demand a 100 per cent return - including nil returns. Check that there has been no fall-off in the numbers of those who were eligible in primary school and chase up those whose false pride prevents them from claiming what is rightly theirs. Thereafter check each year group rigorously for any signs of a fall-off in applications as pupils move through the school. Issue merit certificates annually to the year group with the best take-up of free meals.
Introduce a 10-column option structure in S3-S4 so that pupils can study up to 10 Standard grade courses. Thus, in a 30-period week, three periods would be allocated to each course. Non-examinable subjects such as core RE, core PE and core PSE should be dropped as they will consume valuable teaching time.
Other non-examinable activities such as school shows should be dropped as they too consume valuable teaching time.
Make the subjects offered by your five most successful departments compulsory for all pupils when they are making option choices as they enter S3. This can be achieved by ensuring that each subject is offered in two different columns and by the judicious use of cross-setting.
Make sure that Standard grade teaching sets are allocated to teachers according to ability, with the best sets given to the best teachers. In this connection, make sure that your very best teachers are allocated two Standard grade teaching sets. Teachers with a poor record in meeting Standard grade targets should be allocated S1-S2 classes and modules, with perhaps a little co-operative teaching at Standard grade as a form of in-service.
Maximise class size in S1-S2 to minimise class size in S3-S5.
Identify the 4-5 per cent of pupils who are most disruptive at the point of P7-S1 transition and suggest to their parents that they should put in a placing request for the good school up the road. Repeat the offer if necessary at various times as they progress from S1 to S4 and it becomes increasingly clear that your school is failing them.
Ensure that per capita allocation is skewed towards S3-S5, and within that ensure that it is further skewed to the departments with the best record in meeting Standard grade and Higher targets.
Make attendance at supported study nights for the five most successful courses compulsory for Standard grade candidates.
Set up your own Easter school for the five most successful Standard grade courses.
In consultation with staff introduce sensible targets for setting and marking Standard grade Higher homework. Seek the support of parents in this matter.
Introduce a six-column option structure in S5 so that pupils can study up to six Highers.
Make the three most successful subjects in terms of Standard grade performance compulsory at Higher level and, as before, offer them in at least two columns.
Unless subjects satisfy the above criterion, drop those from your Higher menu which are difficult to pass and encourage a greater uptake in easier subjects.
As with Standard grade, make sure that your best teachers get the best Higher teaching sets and are allocated two teaching sets (with the best resources and smallest groups).
Ensure that these pupils also attend supported study days or Easter school.
Call meetings of staff, pupils and parents and demand that they aim high and drop any nonsense about not being good enough.
Write to the Government and to your local authority demanding full employment forthwith for the families in your catchment area (but beware of the downside if you unwittingly contribute to a drop in the number of free meals).
Write to the Government demanding severe penalties for single-parent families.
Write to Tesco demanding that it stop employing exam candidates as shelf-stackers.
Write to God demanding a major reduction in the number of boys being born in your catchment area. Alternatively invite the parents of boys to put in placing requests for the aforementioned good school up the road.
Avoid achieving your targets too quickly. It just means you will be given new targets and you will have to start all over again.
Above all, don't let any of your colleagues know what you are up to. They will simply steal all your ideas and before you know what is happening you will be back, in relative terms, where you started.
Dick Lynas, an education consultant, was formerly headteacher of Taylor High School, New Stevenston.