Key school targets jettisoned

14th May 2010 at 01:00
Assembly government to rethink goals on attainment and class size as critics blame lack of funding for failure

Government pledges to improve pupil attainment, class sizes and attendance are set to be dropped by the Assembly government, TES Cymru can reveal.

Targets that were supposed to be achieved this year are now being reviewed by ministers after it became clear that many will be missed.

The goals were set out by the government in its 2006 landmark strategic document Learning Country: Vision into Action.

As first reported in TES Cymru last month, the target for cutting the number of Neets (those not in education, employment or training) is due to be abandoned after the government conceded it was too "ambitious".

But it has now emerged that the review of targets is much more widespread, sparking warnings that a lack of money is hampering efforts to improve education.

David Reynolds, professor of education at Plymouth University, said: "The targets appeared ambitious at the time but I don't remember any concern that they were unachievable.

"What has happened since 2006 is the huge education expenditure crisis and the increased council holdback of school funds by local authorities. I think that lies at the route of many of our problems."

Philip Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, said: "A lot of it comes down to the simple fact that the government has not properly funded education.

"Academic achievement has been plateauing for a number of years now and there are no easy answers."

When launching Vision into Action, then education minister Jane Davidson said: "There is absolutely no point in setting our standards too low and easily achieving them."

She vowed there would be no more "moving goalposts", and said the document marked the beginning of "an education revolution".

But an Assembly government spokesman this week said: "Targets set down in Vision into Action were created several years ago. The minister is currently reviewing them."

Key targets under review include primary class sizes to be limited to a maximum of 30 pupils. Assembly statistics show that despite progress being made, there were still more than 9,300 pupils being taught in classes over 30 last year.

In attainment, 80 per cent of 11 year-olds were supposed to be achieving the core subject indicator by 2010. Last year's figures show that 77 per cent made the mark.

The quality of learning as assessed by Estyn was supposed to be at least satisfactory in 98 per cent of classes. But according to the chief inspector's report this year, just 85 per cent of primaries and 72 per cent of secondaries achieved the target.

And attendance is secondary schools has remained below the 93 per cent goal for 2010. Rates have dropped by less than 2 per cent in the past decade and unauthorized absences have increased.

As reported last month, the target for cutting the number of Neets is being revised in light of the "economic challenges" being faced in Wales.

Plans to make all school buildings "fit for purpose" have also been quietly dropped. The phrase was jettisoned earlier this year after it had been used to embarrass ministers.

However, the government has hit the targets for the roll-out of the play- led foundation phase for three to seven-year-olds and the skills-based Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification.

The target of getting 60 per cent of 15-year-olds achieving the equivalent of GCSE grades A* to C by 2010 has already been exceeded, as 65.5 per cent made the grade last year according to the WJEC.

Professor Reynolds, a former government advisor, said the government must narrow its focus to three specific `core' targets - quality of learning, quality of teaching and attendance - to ensure success.

The ones that got away

Goals likely to be missed:

  • Maximum 30-pupil class size
  • Attendance at secondaries to be at least 93 per cent by 2010
  • Quality of learning to be at least "satisfactory" in 98 per cent of classes
  • No pupil to leave full-time education without an approved qualification
  • 80 per cent of 11-year-olds to achieve core subject indicator in Welsh or English, maths and science.

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