Death knell for targets?

24th June 2005 at 01:00
Failure to hit official bull's-eyes is masking real progress being made by schools, say unions. Jon Slater reports

Schools have overwhelmingly failed to hit the targets set for them by ministers, the Government has admitted.

Eleven out of 14 school targets set by the Government between 2000 and 2002 have been or are likely to be missed, the annual report of the Department for Education and Skills reveals. Of the 11, six have been missed and five are behind schedule. Only three are on course to be met.

Efforts to improve literacy and numeracy in primaries, boost GCSE results and improve the education of children in care have all fallen short.

Union leaders accused the Government of shooting itself in the foot over targets by making it easy for critics to attack real improvements made by schools.

Failure to hit literacy and numeracy targets contributed to the early departure of Estelle Morris, one of Ruth Kelly's predecessors as education secretary.

The latest revelation is unlikely to promote similar political upheaval, as the Government was widely expected to miss many of the targets.

Nevertheless, there is evidence that progress has been slower than predicted.

Last year's DfES annual report showed the Government expected to miss 16 out of 29 school targets, but said efforts to increase the number of 19-year-olds with five or more A*-C GCSEs and reduce truancy were on course. Both targets have been missed, however.

Fewer 19-year-olds are gaining the equivalent of five good GCSEs than when the target was announced in 2002. Efforts to reduce truancy by 10 per cent failed. Unauthorised absence, according to the Government, "has remained static for a decade".

Changes to the target regime account for the different number of aims assessed in 2004 and in 2005.

Earlier targets, including the missed truancy target and additional literacy and numeracy targets for 11 and 14-year-olds, have now been subsumed into new targets announced as part of the 2004 spending review, and are not assessed separately in the latest report.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:

"The school system is improving irrespective of targets.

"Primary targets are a classic example. Performance has substantially improved but an unsubtle approach to target-setting which fails to recognise that improving performance gets harder the higher you go has been an own goal for the Government."

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers , said:

"This is the death knell for targets. They have covered up the genuine success stories in schools and have unforeseen effects, including helping ill-informed and politically partisan criticism of schools."

As The TES revealed in April, ministers have also experienced problems with targets for Sure Start, the early-years programme.

Of eight targets set between 2000-02, three have been missed or are behind schedule, one has been hit and one is on course. Three have been dropped.

In contrast, four of the five targets for higher and further education are on track or have been met. The Government said it was too early to assess progress on most of the 2004 targets, although it admitted that one, intended to push up GCSE results in poorly performing schools, has already slipped.

Progress towards others, including increasing the proportion of young people doing two hours of high-quality PE from 25 per cent in 2002 to 75 per cent by 2006 and reduce school absence levels by 8 per cent between 2003-08, is judged to be on track.


School targets 2000-02

On target

* Significantly reduce the number of schools where fewer than 60 per cent of 14-year-olds achieve level 5 in English, maths and ICT.


* by 2004, no more than 15 per cent of pupils aged 14 will fail to gain at least one level 5.

* 35 per cent of 11-year-olds to achieve level 5 in English and maths by 2004. (Actual English 27 per cent; maths 31 per cent).

* all schools to have at least 20 per cent of pupils gaining five A*-C GCSEs or equivalent by 2004.

* increase the proportion of19-year-olds gaining five high- grade GCSEs by three percentage points 2002-04.

* improve levels of education, training and employment outcomes for care-leavers to 75 per cent of those achieved by other young people by 2004.

Behind schedule

* significantly reduce the number of schools where fewer than 60 per cent of 14-year-olds achieve level five in science.

* by 2007, 90 per cent of 12-year-olds to reach level 4 in English and maths.

* increase the proportion of16-year-olds gaining five or more A*-C GCSEs by an average of two percentage points a year between 2002-06.

* substantially narrow the gap between the education of children in care and that of their peers by 2006.

The Department for Education and Skills Departmental Report 2005 is available at

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