Stumped by moving targets;Letter

15th May 1998 at 01:00
IT is interesting to compare and contrast two items in The TES Scotland of May 1 complaining about school targets.

On the one hand there is Astrid Ritchie's essentially political rant complaining that it's "no' fair" that poor schools are being set low targets.

On the other hand the rather better informed secondary headteachers are complaining that schools in deprived areas are being set unrealistically hard targets.

Who is right and what exactly are targets anyway?

Astrid Ritchie is taking them to be the actual examination results which schools are being asked to achieve. But the headteachers are looking at the gap between what schools currently achieve and what they are being asked to achieve as the target.

So, Astrid Ritchie is right when she says that "poor" schools are being asked to achieve lower levels of examination results. But the headteachers are similarly right to say that the improvements which they are being asked for in order to achieve these examination levels are unrealistic.

Indeed, unlike Astrid Ritchie's assertion that "poor" schools are being set lower targets, they are, in the headteachers' terms, being set much harder targets.

Schools which already show good examination results have very little scope for improvement and are being asked for minimal improvements in their examination results, whereas schools at the bottom, however, are being asked to make incredibly large improvements.

Moreover, there is confusion in the way the target formula is presented.

For example the government paper Setting Targets - Raising Standards in Schools proposes an increase in the percentage of S4 pupils getting five or more good Standard grades from a current level of 28.2 per cent to a target level of 35.2 per cent.

The document then says this is a 7 per cent improvement. True, but it really requires a massive 25 per cent increase in the actual number of pupils achieving this level in order to deliver that 7 per cent improvement.

Given that the youngsters concerned are already in secondary school and have not had the benefits of the early-years reading programmes, it is asking the impossible to expect schools to deliver a 25 per cent improvement over current results in the time available - unless of course the Scottish Qualifications Authority does its bit and lowers standards!

As for Astrid Ritchie, I would suggest that her own confusion is evidence enough, if any were needed, as to why the professionals regard target-setting as a very complex issue - and one which they will find hard to explain to parents.

Judith Gillespie. Findhorn Place. Edinburgh.

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