Stress alert on pupil targets

6th April 2001 at 01:00
SCHOOLS and education authorities were given a clear warning last week that monitoring and supporting pupils' progress was no longer an option but a legislative requirement.

But the message to a Glasgow conference from Bill Clark, chief inspector in charge of quality, standards and audit, that the new education Act imposed a duty to reinforce pupils' learning led to a warning from one headteacher that there was "a price to pay" in greater pupil stress.

HMI would now ensure that all schools had systems in place, Mr Clark said. "This is not a threat. It's just being honest."

He acknowledged the intention was not just to collect data. "It has to have real meaning in everyday work," he said.

Information must be used to set realistic challenges and targets. "Target-setting is not an add-on. It is fundamental to learning and teaching. There is no point in collecting and analysing if it is not used to support pupils' education and experience."

The absence of a single national approach to monitoring, Mr Clark said, created a dilemma because benchmarks will be needed to make comparisons across schools and authorities. Schools must ensure that the data they collect is reliable, and must give teachers a clear view to feed back into their teaching.

Stephen McKenzie, head of service in Renfrewshire, said that monitoring can help teachers "get behind" the 5-14 outcomes. "Evidence from some schools is that the more closely teachers monitor pupil progress the more they are having to look atthe kind of outcomes that are expected from the 5-14 process."

This could mean that instead of delivering something through maths, the outcome could be achieved elsewhere in the curriculum.

There was now a "watershed" which should drive forward the monitoring and support agenda, Mr McKenzie said. "We have a set of national priorities enshrined in legislation which broaden our views and expectations, technology that is easily accessible and a greater understanding of learning and teaching. We now have to decide how to tie all of these things together."

He urged Learning and Teaching Scotland, which helped organise the conference, to take the lead role in pulling together good practice.

Mike Baughan, chief executive of Learning and Teaching Scotland, said the conference was part of a bigger project in relation to monitoring and supporting young people's progress. Since January, three project officers have been visiting 12 schools commended by their authorities. A report would be available in the autumn.

A note of caution was sounded at one of the conference workshops by Bill McGregor, rector of James Hamilton Academy in Kilmarnock. Mr McGregor expressed concern that there was "a price to pay" in stress levels among upper school pupils.

"While expectations have risen, results improved and staff report that pupils work output has increased, pupils are being put under more pressure. Parents are reporting that their children's eating and sleeping patterns are affected."

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