Missing the mark as results stall

4th June 2004 at 01:00
More than half of the targets set by ministers to drive up school standards will not be hit, the Government has admitted.

This year's results for 11, 14 and 16-year-olds are unlikely to have risen enough to fulfil ministers' expectations.

But the expected shortfall from the target of 85 per cent of 11-year-olds reaching level 4 in English and maths is likely to attract the most attention. In 2003 only 75 per cent reached the expected level in English and 73 per cent in maths.

Estelle Morris, who preceded Charles Clarke as education secretary, resigned in 2002 after failing to hit earlier primary targets.

Other high-profile disappointments for ministers include the 14-year-olds' English and information and communications technology results and the promise to increase the proportion of pupils gaining five or more A* to C GCSEs by two percentage points each year.

Unions seized on the failures, highlighted in the Department for Education and Skills' annual report, as evidence that the targets are a nonsense.

David Hart, National Association of Head Teachers general secretary, said:

"The Government is digging a hole for itself by sticking with targets it clearly cannot achieve."

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "This shows the incoherence in Government policy. Every time there is an initiative ministers introduce a new target. Ministers need to stick to a few things and do them well."

But a DfES spokeswoman said: "We make no apology for setting tough targets.

We have made progress since 1997 but we are not complacent and that is why we will continue to strive to meet our targets in the future."

The annual report shows ministers expect to miss 16 out of 29 school targets set in the 2000 and 2002 spending reviews. Only nine of the targets, which focus mainly on test results, are described as "on course".

One, the promise of full-time education for all excluded pupils, has already been met.

A further three targets, including the promise to increase to 75 per cent the number of pupils spending two hours on high quality PE and school sport, are yet to be assessed.

Even the "on-course" targets are subject to controversy.

The current target to reduce truancy by 10 per cent by 2004 is among those listed as likely to be hit. This is because this is a scaled- down version of the Government's original commitment to cut truancy by a third.

It is one of 10 targets set in 2000 which have been amended or dropped. Of the nine remaining, eight are set to be missed.

The number of education authorities where fewer than 78 per cent of 11-year-olds reach level 4 in maths increased from 12 in 2000 to 15 last year. During the same period the number of LEAs hitting the same level in English fell by three to 33. Ministers had expected all local authorities to reach that level.

At GCSE, only 86 per cent of pupils gained five or more A* to G grade GCSEs including English and maths, compared to a 2004 target of 92 per cent.

The report is more optimistic about progress towards targets set two years ago. Schools should hit maths (75 per cent getting the expected level) and science (70) targets for 14-year-olds by 2004.

SUCCESSES AND FAILURES

Hits

* Reduce the number of schools in which fewer than 65 per cent of 11-year-olds reach level 4 (by 2006)

* Increase the number of 14-year-olds reaching the expected level in maths to 75 per cent and science to 70 per cent (2004); and English, maths, ICT to 85 per cent and science to 80 per cent (2007)

* Increase the proportion of 19-year-olds who gain five A* to C GCSEs or equivalent by three percentage points (2002-4)

* Reduce school truancies by 10 per cent (2002-4) Misses

* 85 per cent of 11-year-olds to reach level 4 in maths and literacy (2004) and 35 per cent level 5 (2006)

* Increase the number of 14-year-olds reaching the expected level in English and ICT to 75 per cent (2004)

* Proportion of 16-year-olds getting five top GCSEs to rise by two percentage points each year (2002-6)

* No school to have fewer than 20 per cent of pupils achieving five A* - C GCSEs (2004)

* 92 per cent of 16-year-olds to gain at least five GCSEs (2004)

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