It's your priority

31st March 2000 at 01:00
FROM national priorities to school development plans by way of local improvement objectives, the Executive has set out to harness the energies that go into improving pupils' experiences and performance. The notion of a three-year plan has been discarded: it would smack too much of central direction and discredited socialism. But there has to be some way of bringing together the many targets and objectives to which teachers find themselves thirled.

The national priorities are up for grabs because this week's paper (page one) is meant for consultation. Given the logic of defining priorities at all, few people would dissent from the areas proposed, for these have long been regarded as essentials. The chief danger is from well-meaning dilution by extension: who would bet against "citizenship" having its protagonists? The Executive's defence is that benefits from some activities can be translated into the key skils that sit alongside the priorities. Specific problems such as underachievement by boys are to be tackled, short term, as action areas.

Priorities will be meaningless unless progress is measured. For some core skills the Executive's paper merely "invites views". How do you measure improvement in critical thinking or co-operating with others? Schools which have complained that their input to pupils' development, as opposed to exam passes, has been undervalued will (optimistically) find a broader framework of evaluation.

Any extra expectations on teachers should be outweighed by the burden the Executive imposes on itself and local authorities to provide "input" so that outcomes are realised. The coalition is already committed, for example, to a programme of building improvements. The national priorities now point to the need to adopt and fund whatever the McCrone inquiry proposes for teachers.

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