Do education targets work?

1st September 2006 at 01:00
Here is a selection of teachers' views on whether education targets are working, posted on the TES online staffroom forum this week

Middlemarch: It is evident to many teachers - including headteachers such as myself - that the targets agenda has simply reduced schools to "by hook or by crook" methods - some of which involve, I'm afraid to allege, a fair amount of downright cheating.

That's not achieving higher standards, it's just sleight of hand.

2I269: Targets and benchmarking are symptomatic of the approach to management adopted by the failed business people with which this government stuffs its policy groups.

As in Soviet Russia, setting targets doesn't lead to increased productivity, it merely leads to an increasing tendency to massage the figures.

According to the departments of state in the USSR, there was food and oil for all. Contrast that with the reality of the infamous bread queues and you can see where targets get you.

Phoenixandsphinx: Targets have turned teachers into alchemists. We no longer teach the students to the best of their abilities, we change grades.

I came into the profession relatively recently (three years ago), but even I have noticed the difference. Targets are just a farce.

Justforfun: There is a missing debate here about whether primary should be teaching a knowledge-based curriculum - as Chris Woodhead wants - or a skills-based one. The two are not mutually exclusive, but it seems to me that Sats try to assess a knowledge-based approach because it is easier than trying to assess a skills-based curriculum. I suspect many primaries are trying to use both approaches and are effectively failing at both.

Psytrance: Targets result in teachers doing endless calculations, form-filling, meetings, staff development and suchlike - not to meet the requirements of the students but to meet the demands of the targets.

Targets mean that time spent enjoying learning is taken up with exam technique, exam practice and second-guessing what's going to be in this year's paper.

Targets mean that the public and the government judge the worth of a school or college on a paper-based statistical measure, not its reality. Targets mean that senior managers feel no shame in saying to staff: "They only need to understand enough to pass the exam." Targets mean we are churning out happy little robots chasing shiny prizes. Targets... don't get me started.

Geoff1954: The decision to have educational targets is separate from the decision to publish league tables of results. Publishing league tables means that teachers teach towards them in a harmful way: for example, killing a subject by the endless study of past examination papers, reducing time spent on non-examined subjects, and putting extra resources into borderline students at the expense of others.

I feel that primary children benefited from the greater emphasis on maths and English which resulted from targets. But that lesson has now been learned. So scrap the published league tables now and also scrap the targets.

Chili pepper: If targets are to benefit the children, then they are to be welcomed with open arms; however, if they are to monitor the system, as they are perceived to be, then they will always fail in their original objectives. Is my primary objective as a teacher to train a pupil to pass an exam or is it to open the child's mind and imagination to the world beyond and outside the curriculum, so that they feel the drive and creativity for themselves?

We all learn from that. Just think how exciting the developments have been over the past few years. If it were not for people pushing today's boundaries, then there would be fewer aspirations for tomorrow.

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