And 'mission statement'?...

14th March 2003 at 00:00
... I associate the word mission with the armed forces, Nasa, and Tom Cruise's impossible one, but not with education

Targets. That's the word today. Everybody has to have a target. We've all become clones of William Tell.

Call me cynical, but you can't help wondering what the next buzz word will be. We've worked through a few in the past decade or so. Remember when each lesson, governor's agenda item, or group discussion had to have a "focus"? If you were a student on teaching practice and missed the word focus out of your lesson plans, you were in deep water when your tutor visited.

Or remember when "share" was the fashionable word? If the inspector called to look round your school (before they came in bundles of six and were labelled Ofsted), he offered to "share" some thoughts with you. He meant he intended to run through its strengths and weaknesses, just as he'd always done. And "mission statement"? A classic phrase that causes me great amusement. I associate the word mission with the armed forces, Nasa, and Tom Cruise's impossible one, but not with education. Once, presumably at the whim of a DfES suit, every school had to write a mission statement. No longer could your prospectus tell parents about the exciting things going on, nor could you make the assumption that even a parent with half a brain could work out from reading it what your aims were. No, you had to start with a mission statement, and you invariably opened with: "We aim to develop every child's ability to the full." Throughout the UK, they were virtually identical. You'd hardly say you weren't trying to develop each child's ability to the full, would you?

But targets, they're something else. For starters, governors are required to set them in English and maths for the end of key stage 2. School data will have been collected to help them, but they are voluntary workers and it's down to the head to do the spadework. As we're not dealing with sales graphs of potatoes, results are difficult to predict, especially for two years hence. In my neck of the woods, families tend to move in and out of the area constantly, and once, when I sent my targets to my inspector, he said I'd set them too low. When I told him I was making an accurate prediction because the cohort wasn't especially able, and was quite likely to change anyway, he said that was immaterial; the DfES had demanded a minimum level from the local authority.

Nevertheless, young teachers accept these buzz words without much trouble, probably because they've never known a time when teachers were trusted to make intelligent decisions. But some of the advice emanating from the DfES these days convinces me the writers haven't been near a classroom since their own schooldays. We're advised, for example, to set different kinds of "target zone": historic, challenge, unlikely or comfort. We're told we should have appropriate data in different years for evaluating unexpected variations. We're told our targets should be Smart: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-related. In some schools, teachers are asked to set individual targets for every pupil. One assumes they're not expected to teach as well. When I sigh and show my deputy the latest claptrap, she smiles and tells me not to worry because it'll change in a few months. And, reassured, I put it in my folder marked "Documents assembled for teachers".

Daft, for short.

Mike Kent is headteacher of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark. Email:

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