Some lessons for Mr Blunkett

31st March 2000 at 01:00
Targets for Tomorrow's Schools Nigel Gann, Falmer Press. pound;13.95 Target Setting: Using Assessment to Raise Standards Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire LEAs. pound;10 It is not a bad time to read Nigel Gann's book. Teachers may be scanning the website of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority for the latest suggestions. Perhaps they are scrutinising The TES, attending a dizzy round of twilight subject manager meetings, or just waiting for local authority advice on how it will all fit together. But Gann reminds us that we should seek direction from the closest source: our governors.

It must be healthy for school staff to work with governors in self-assessment, and they can be an antidote to the current malaise of centralisation, with its 101 directions from Westminster and apocalyptic inspection visits.

Gann is no fan of Ofsted which, with the Department for Education and Employment, uses results like "a psychopath uses a walking stick to beat you with, rather than to help him move forward". What's needed is common sense - and confident governors can provide that.

It would have been a good three years ago, when I pointed my school towards better national assessment results, to have heard governors say: "Hold on. We rather like the broad, balanced curriculum. Turn up the heat under literacy and numeracy if you like, but we need the rest too." Perhaps my governors said it and I just didn't hear. Well, I came away from this book determined to seek sustenance from my school's governors, on more issues, more often.

As we approach 2002 - David Blunkett's "year of truth" - tere are no pastoral targets and no targets addressing social, emotional or physical development. We just have the tests and league tables that relay what Gann calls the Government's "narrow view of achievement".

In schools, we should be trying to identify our core purposes from which the targets should be fashioned - which bring us towards the vision. Governors can help with that, resisting the simplifications attractive to politicians. After all, who says Blunkett's 2002 targets will help at all? Teachers need to reflect, with governors and the families we serve, on what we want our pupils to be able to do.

We need thoughtful governors to help us keep "the whole child" in mind. We need to have the school community's support in which governors will be prominent. For, as Gann reminds us: "Ofsted's own research has shown that parents do not share the obsession with achievement."

Target Setting: Using Assessment to Raise Standards is a resource from which most schools will gain something. An account of existing practice, it is rooted in the everyday reality of schools. The sections on "value added" should attract many readers as "prior attainment" families become a more common background against which attainment is measured.

We need to develop the national initiative and breathe common sense into a creature that has had such an ignoble beginning. As one teacher put it: "It is no good picking numbers out of the air. You have to know your children." Mr Blunkett should learn that by heart!

The writer is head of St Giles junior school in Exhall, Coventry


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