It is not surprising that many of the targets derived for secondary schools from the Scottish Office formula have been revised by local authorities and the schools themselves. The formula, with its reliance on free school meals, is itself questionable. The idea that more than 400 schools, with widely different characteristics, could neatly fit into a target framework at the first time of asking was optimistic. The Scottish Office in effect recognised that, but since most targets have been reduced,there is concern that schools are seeking an easy life.
Few heads would want to give their staffs a higher obstacle to overcome even if the initial target is too modest, as in some cases it is. Therefore the emphasis has been on making the goals more realistic where they appeared too challenging, or plainly mistaken.
The difficulty in fitting all schools into a single framework is clear from the rapid retreat over primaries. Victoria Quay will no longer try to come up with the right figure for more than 2,000 schools. The basic information is not available for any pupils below Standard grade.
In time, from baseline assessment at age five to universal national testing up to 14, reliable statistics may appear. That day is a long way off and it is best left to schools and authorities to seek their own challenges by turning the well established expectations about age and attainment at 5-14 levels into targets. It is striking that for schools with a roll under 70, the attainment of individual children has to be worked into the sums.
Targets unrelated to the actual pupils in class were bound to be unrealistic. The challenge will be for education officials and headteachers to set goals which recognise that and which encourage all teachers to raise their sights. The small minority who are unable or unwilling to do so then have to be helped, in the final instance helped out of the job. That is the way to raise standards.