One-for-all targets are worse than useless

14th January 2005 at 00:00
It is said that with six feet of it packed into every single cell, there is enough DNA in the human body to stretch to the Sun and back 600 times.

Which is all well and good, but who gets to put it together again?

The problem with people and data is that often the sum has very little to do with the parts. Which brings us to that annual waste of time we call target-setting.

It should be an opportunity for teachers to make valuable assessments about where their pupils will be at the end of the year. To produce professional judgements on the basis of detailed experience. To review the progress of individual children in the light of teaching and learning strategies. To take a snapshot of each child in context and, on that basis, plan for individual futures.

Indeed, target-setting is a meaningful exercise until the orders arrive.

They come from somewhere higher up the chain of command, like the ones sent by World War One generals examining maps several kilometres from the front line.

And before you can arrange a friendly kick-about in no man's land, we find ourselves under fire. Professional judgements blown apart by the heavy artillery of local education authority percentages and targets. A working knowledge of children and their abilities wiped out in an instant by the Panda.

No, not a large black-and-white mammal with a reluctance to procreate in public. Panda is short for Performance and Assessment: inspired by the Office for Standards in Education, used by robots.

It works like this: LEAs use data from entirely different cohorts, factor in the performance of entirely different schools and multiply the whole thing by a number that will ensure targets are acceptable to someone who would not know a primary classroom if it jumped up and wiped finger paint down his suit.

Consequently, teachers are required to set new targets that trump the original ones, and negate all the hours of honest effort put into setting them in the first place. The workload is bad enough, without having our judgements invalidated by a politically expedient mathematical formula.

Anyway, the truth is that children will never be tidy numbers in neat little boxes, just like they will never be billions of miles of DNA.

Manipulate and redefine the data how you will - just do not expect us to make the children fit it.

Catherine Kington and Steve Eddison are team leaders at Longley primary school, Sheffield. Feeling aggrieved? Write us a 400-word Sounding Off and get paid as you grumble. Send it to

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