Shortfall predicted on primary targets

30th September 2005 at 01:00
Union leader accuses ministers of creating a 'generation of losers'. Helen Ward reports

The Government is likely to miss its targets for primary schools in England next year, according to official figures.

When Labour came to power, it aimed to get 80 per cent of 11-year-olds achieving level 4 in the English national tests and 75 per cent in maths by 2002. The failure to reach those targets contributed to the resignation of Estelle Morris, the then education secretary.

Her successor, Charles Clarke, stuck by the higher targets of 85 per cent for both subjects by 2004, but pushed back the date to 2006.

The targets have remained in place, despite increasing evidence that they are unrealistic.

This week Jacqui Smith, school standards minister, told The TES it was still not certain that primary schools would miss the targets, and that there were no plans to abandon them.

"The reason we set challenging targets was to raise aspirations in the school system," she said.

"Even if we were minded to get rid of the targets - which we are not - you (the press) would not let us off the hook."

The latest statistics show that key stage 2 results in English are due to plateau in 2006 after rising for the past two years.

Figures released by the Department for Education and Skills based on heads'

predictions show that when all the individual school targets are averaged, 79 per cent of 11-year-olds are expected to reach level 4 in English next year, and 80 per cent in maths.

The figures show heads believe fewer 14-year-olds will reach level 5 in English next year than did in 2005, and the proportion of pupils getting five A*-C grade GCSEs will rise to 58 per cent from 53.7.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "It is the right thing to set expectations of pupil progress, but wrong to change it into a sledgehammer to hit schools with.

This target-setting and league-table agenda creates a whole generation of losers, people who come out of schools thinking they are not succeeding."

At KS3, schools predict 73 per cent will achieve level 5 in English next year, and 74 per cent in maths. This year, 74 per cent reached level 5 in both subjects.

The Government's target is for 85 per cent to reach level 5 by 2007.

The target-setting regime for primaries was changed in 2003 after complaints that local education authorities were pressing heads and governors into setting unrealistic targets. Now, schools must set their targets first - based on their knowledge of individual pupils - with LEAs setting targets afterwards. LEAs predict that 82 per cent of pupils will reach level 4 in 2006 - the same prediction as for 2005.

Wolverhampton is the council most out of step with its schools. While heads expect 74 per cent of pupils to reach level 4 in both subjects, the council's targets, set as part of a public service agreement in 2001, are 84 per cent for English and 85 per cent for maths.

* helen.ward@tes.co.uk

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