Mistrust over target cuts

20th July 2007 at 01:00
teachers' leaders say any move by Government to reduce the number of national education targets will make little difference to schools while league tables and pressure from local authorities remain.

The Treasury plans to cut by more than a quarter the number of national targets it sets to monitor the effectiveness of public spending. At the moment, there are 110 such targets, of which nine relate directly to schools covering areas such as exam results and truancy and another three concern further education.

Yesterday, Cabinet ministers were expected to hold "advanced discussions" on setting just 30 targets across Whitehall for the next three-year public service spending deal, which runs from 2008-11.

The Government wants to send out the message that it is placing more trust in public bodies such as schools. But, while teachers will applaud the sentiment, they need to be aware that beneath each new headline target will be several "indicators", which the Treasury says will be also be measurable. For example, a target for cutting childhood obesity could be monitored by collecting figures on how much sport is provided by schools.

Andy Burnham, chief secretary to the Treasury, said more targets would be set locally. "It is not the abandonment of targets as a tool of performance management and local accountability," he said. "There will be no slipping back."

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, described his plan as window-dressing that would make no difference to teachers while "crude accountability" measures such as testing and tables remained.

The two heads' associations agreed it was local authorities and regional national strategies advisers that put most pressure on schools. They said removing the targets was a step in the right direction, but a total culture change was needed.

The Government has had a troubled history with its education targets. Estelle Morris said the failure to meet literacy and numeracy targets in 2002 was the main reason for her resignation as education secretary that year. In this year's annual report, the Department for Education and Skills revealed there had been "slippage" on two-thirds of its schools targets.

The Treasury said details of the new education targets would not be announced until the autumn.

Gordon Brown's National Council for Educational Excellence made up of leading business figures and representatives of schools and universities met for the first time this week.

It will draw up a new children's plan. Jo Davidson, Gloucestershire director of children's services, Alan Steer, head of Seven Kings high in Ilford, and Jackie Fisher, Newcastle college chief executive, will chair three working groups, looking respectively at education for the 0-7, 8-13 and 14-19 age groups.

Leading article, page 26

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