Fast track for a STAMP of approval

15th March 1996 at 00:00
The Government has singled out certain schools as shining examples of successful target setting. Nicholas Pyke looks at some of the ways and means by which they achieved their goals

Last week the Government and its school inspection agency published a joint report on the use of "target-setting" in schools. It is a popular theme. Targeting by which they mean setting precise classroom goals to help raise standards is now favoured by both Conservative and Labour parties. Publication of the report was immediately followed by a Government announcement that next month it will devote Pounds 2 million to promote target setting in primary schools.

In compiling their document, Setting Targets to Raise Standards: A Survey of Good Practice, inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education looked at 40 primary and secondary schools during the last autumn term. Some of the resulting case studies are described below.

Belvidere Secondary Shropshire

Eight years ago, only 11 per cent of the pupils achieved five or more higher GCSE grades at this 11-16 comprehensive in Shrewsbury. The proportion has risen steadily and in 1995 stood at 65 per cent. A recent inspection by the Office for Standards in Education concluded that this was a popular and successful school that had made remarkable progress. The sharp improvement in standards, it said, was the result of a systematic approach to raising expectation and achievement.

The head and his senior team started by ensuring that staff concentrated on "the quality of what went on in the classroom". They led by example, taking on relatively high teaching loads to demonstrate that the business of teaching and learning is the school's priority. They managed to establish an ethos of high expectation and achievement with positive attitudes towards learning.

For its part the governing body reviewed examination performance and held individual departments accountable for the results. Comparisons were made between subjects using "value-added" analyses. Departments were expected to identify areas for improvement in their development plans. Teachers were asked to identify, and monitor the progress of, individual pupils who were underachieving. The senior management team gave extra attention to groups of children whose results could be improved from average to good, while high-attainers were given classes after school for additional examination courses. Departments provided guides and coursework bulletins for the pupils.

The senior managers established strong links with parents and instituted annual surveys of parental opinion. They also ensured that the school looked more attractive, at little cost, with better wall displays of the children's work.

Burntwood Secondary Wandsworth

This 11-18 girls' comprehensive aims to provide "the best education today for women of tomorrow". There are high expectations which emanate from the principal herself and permeate the work of the entire school community. There has been a 17 per cent increase in GCSE performance (A-C) over the past three years.

Every new entrant and her parents sign a written agreement. This is underpinned by a firm belief in student entitlement and the notion of "services to students". Such is the climate in the school with its thinking, self-critical, open approach to planning and development, that students have been trusted to make their expectations of staff explicit .

Every student is set targets, twice yearly in years 7 to 11 and termly in Years 12 and 13. Each girl is involved in the collation of her end-of-year report. She helps draw up the targets, shares the completion of a "tutorial assessment" section showing the national curriculum levels attained; and she must discuss it with her parents. Girls and parents are expected to attend the "Student Academic Counselling Day" at the start of the autumn term to discuss and agree the targets. The parents value the direct involvement and personal feedback they receive on their daughters' progress and feel they have a clearer understanding of how they can help at home. They also appreciate being given a detailed curriculum guide each year, a homework timetable and a note of which member of staff to contact to answer specific queries.

The effect of all this seemed extremely positive. Discussions with students in Years 12 and 13 confirmed some of the advantages of target setting: clarity about priorities; efficient use of private study time; and a structure to the work schedule which can be helpful and reassuring.

Year 9 students felt that knowledge and awareness of the targets helped their parents to be more understanding. All wanted to succeed in public examinations and viewed high achievement as the key to a better choice of career for women.

Clifford Road Primary Suffolk

In recent years the school has focused on the improvement of the reading scheme (See Figure C). This involved comprehensive assessment and recording for individual pupils. Each child has a weekly reading "interview" and lower ability pupils have a daily session. Pupils' attainment is noted, their work adjusted and additional practice provided.

Using both internal assessment and the external analysis provided by the LEA, the school detected a better rate of progress between ages 8 and 10 than between 6 and 8. This led to a revision of the reading scheme and assessment methods, and greater parental involvement in reading at key stage 1.

Figure C shows the latest comparison of the progress made between ages 8 and 10. The rate is now higher than the local authority average, a considerable improvement on the previous year.

By locating individual pupils in the graph, the school has detected that several more able pupils have made less progress than might have been expected given their prior attainment aged 6-8. As a result it has directed a small amount of additional teaching time to support more able pupils in years 5 and 6.

Grove Primary Birmingham

Set in a a deprived inner-city area, this is a multi-ethnic school. None the less, expectations are high. Each child is expected to progress half a national curriculum level per year, at least, and pupils falling below this are quickly identified.

The school commissioned an IT package with an assessment database. Every term, teachers put assessment data on the core subjects into the computer. They use the information to select teaching groups for different purposes "fast track" English and maths for example and children with special educational needs. This is accompanied by regular assessment and formal records of pupils' progress, giving a better indication of progress than that provided by national curriculum levels on their own.

As a result, the quality of teaching in mathematics is very good and last year four pupils achieved a higher grade GCSE pass.

Spelling has been identified as a weakness and the teaching has changed as a result. Regular spelling homework was prescribed and daily tests introduced. This led to measurable improvements. The database helps the school deploy its resources more efficiently. It allows detailed comparisons of the different year groups, drawing in both predicted and actual results.

Shenley Court School and Sixth Form Centre Birmingham

By rearranging registration and tutorial time, this secondary school has set aside 25 minutes at the end of one day a week for staff to meet pupils. Each member of staff mentors three pupils from each year group throughout the academic year.

Following receipt of estimated GCSE grades in November, tutor and students agree and record targets and the pupils approach relevant subject teachers for additional support. Subject teachers are on "stand by", ready to be approached by pupils, and the mentors know which lunchtime or after-school "clinics" are available. Targets, which may be reviewed and adjusted throughout the year, are manageable and precise but challenging and might concern, for example, particular equations in mathematics, spelling or use of spoken German.

Mentors set a brisk pace in the tutorial sessions. Experienced year 11 tutors guide less experienced members of staff and stand in for absent mentors.

In all year groups attendance at the tutorial session is recorded and parents are informed by letter of failure to attend or to meet targets. The completed record of targets forms part of the student's record of achievement.

Setting Targets to Raise Standards: A Survey of Good Practice is available from the Department for Education and Employment

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