Lies, damned lies and statistics;Letter

19th June 1998 at 01:00
SO Brian Wilson has now joined the numbers game. Many people have pointed out that all is not as it seems in this target-setting business. For example, the seven point target increase in the numbers getting five-plus credit passes at Standard grade requires a 25 per cent increase in the actual number of pupils achieving this level. And now the minister is now pointing out that a 1 per cent variation in a target which seeks a 4 per cent improvement really allows 25 per cent flexibility (TESS, May 29).

I'm surprised he didn't highlight the 50 per cent flexibility that a 1 per cent variation in the national target for those gaining five Highers in fifth year represents. But then this could be countered by pointing out that a 1 per cent variation in a 10 per cent target offers only 10 per cent flexibility.

Is anyone else reminded of the Mad Hatter's tea party? It's a case of "I can counter your number with my number, and you can counter my number with your number".

But where does that leave schools, teachers and children?

The real horror of the target setting is that because it simply requires schools to reach a target number, it does not question how they reach that number. It is a policy based on the end results rather than the means by which those results might be met. For example, a school seeking a target of five Highers might have to persuade pupils and parents that five C passes are preferable to four A passes - they are not.

Flexibility notwithstanding, we have surely reached the height of nonsense over this numbers game of target-setting, and it is time to stop before it is too late.

Judith Gillespie Findhorn Place Edinburgh

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