Targets for education and training should be demanding but realistic. National Advisory Council director Philip Chorley talks to Stephen Hoare about their importance for Britain's prosperity.
Progress towards the national education and training targets is poised on a knife edge, the Government's advisers have warned. The target for key skills (Foundation Target 2) and the Lifetime Target 1, which aims to get 60 per cent of the workforce trained to NVQ level 3 (A-level equivalent), are being missed.
Philip Chorley, director of the National Advisory Council for Education and Training Targets, says: "When the levels were set in spring 1995 we knew they were challenging. We said in our last annual report that we'd take longer to hit those two targets."
But he is optimistic for the other targets. An independent study by the National Foundation for Education Research concludes that Britain could hit Foundation Targets 1 and 3 by December 2000, getting 85 per cent of 19-year-olds to the equivalent of five GCSEs grade A to C and 60 per cent of 21-year-olds to two A-levels or equivalent. With 2002 looking a more realistic timescale for the targets for adult education and training, the foundation advised the Government to review them. In March a consultation document, Targets for our Future, was published.
The review will also look at the impact the literacy and numeracy targets for 11-year-olds will have on all targets. Philip Chorley says: "The Government's commitment to radical action to raise attainment makes it very important we hit the targets."
Reaching those targets will be helped by the efforts of education business partnerships, the training and enterprise councils and Business in the Community.
"Aim High is an excellent vehicle for recognising and rewarding companies that work in partnership with schools to raise attainment towards national targets."
The advisory council and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's predecessor, the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, pushed for the primary targets, which Labour adopted when it came to power. Philip Chorley sees these as a foundation that will enable all the other targets to fall into place.
"It's clear that if we can get major improvement in primary education and if we can hit challenging targets for literacy and numeracy at the age of 11, it will be a very good platform on which to build for future success."
But the council believes that it is important not to simply wait for improvements in primary literacy and numeracy to have an impact on subsequent attainment targets. The pressure has to be kept up on secondary schools, further education colleges and employers.
"As well as setting targets in the right areas, we must set them at the right levels. They must be realistic and they must be stretching.
"Targets must also relate to the needs of young people who have left school and adults in the workforce," he says. In addition to setting lifetime targets for levels of skills and qualifications, there could be new targets for adult participation in education or training and a target for raising the level of literacy and numeracy in the workforce. These would sit alongside employers' targets for introducing Investors in People.
Philip Chorley says: "We have ahead of us the prospect of a Britain that will be a world-beater in skills. It's a vision we must achieve."