The Scottish Executive has quietly ditched one of the most controversial policies inherited from its predecessors, the setting of national targets for every school and education authority.
The target-setting regime caused such a furore when it was introduced that it led to a bust-up between the inspectorate and the Association of Directors of Education, which believed a nationally-imposed system was unfair.
The Executive has now confirmed that nationally-driven targets are a thing of the past. "National targets were a useful start in challenging schools and raising standards across the country," a spokesperson said. "We've now decided that it is more meaningful if this is done on a local basis through schools taking ownership of their targets and working through local improvement plans, which we believe will then drive up attainment levels throughout the country."
Figures for the three years of the attainment and absence targets for 1999 to 2001 shows that the only one which was exceeded at Standard grade and Higher was that for the number of pupils with five or more Higher passes: the aim was 7.7 per cent and the actual result was 8.1 per cent.
But all the other targets at those levels, which were based on average performance from 1996-98, were close to achievement. The numbers with at least a Standard grade at level 6 in English was 93.9 per cent (target 94.1 per cent) and in maths 93.8 per cent (94 per cent), with five or more Standard grades 1-2 at 32.9 per cent (33.7 per cent), with five or more Standard grades 1-4 at 76.5 per cent (77.3 per cent), with five or more Standard grades 1-6 at 91.3 per cent (92.7 per cent) and with three or more Higher passes at 22.4 per cent (22.9 per cent).
Despite the sluggish performance of pupils in meeting their 5-14 attainment levels, the figures show the national averages were not far off their targets for last year. In the primary stages, 79.8 per cent of pupils were at the right level in reading against a target of 77.4 per cent; the respective figures in writing were 70.3 per cent (67.1 per cent) and in maths 79.2 per cent (80.5 per cent).
These compare with the starting levels in June 1998 of 69.4 per cent, 55.8 per cent and 73.3 per cent.
In S2, 56.4 per cent of pupils were at their required level in reading (target 53.7 per cent), 45.9 per cent (48.4 per cent) in writing and 51.2 per cent (54.6 per cent) in maths. The June 1998 starting points were 41 per cent, 35.5 per cent and 41.5 per cent.
The targets for cutting absenteeism in schools looks as far off as ever. The 1998 figure of 21 half-days lost through absences in primary schools had shifted to just 20 by last year against a target of 18; in secondaries, the figure of 43 half-days absence was exactly the same as three years previously which is some way off the target of 36.
Since the targets were calculated on the basis of schools' starting points in 1998, they do not reveal the same dramatic differences in attainment between the top and bottom of the "league"; Glasgow and East Renfrewshire reveal similar gaps in their achievements and targets.