Target-setter says teachers must have 'room for failure';News;News amp; Opinion

12th November 1999 at 00:00
Neil Munro and David Henderson report from the annual Edinburgh conference, run by the TESS and the city council

FEARS that individual target- setting would demotivate pupils and could be used to penalise teachers were expressed at separate sessions on raising attainment.

Colin Finlayson, headteacher of James Gillespie's High in Edinburgh, who was seconded to the council to develop target-setting, admitted such fears were real.

But Mr Finlayson said that showing pupils where their present levels of performance could lead them was not intended to limit their horizons but to indicate what the average pupil at a particular level was likely to achieve.

It was then up to the school to give extra support through study clubs, lunch clubs and other means.

Discussions with pupils and teachers should make it clear that the exercise was about raising pupils' aspirations and ensuring they fulfilled their potential, not holding teachers accountable. "There has to be room for failure," Mr Finlayson said.

During a presentation by East Renfrewshire officials on the council's sophisticated system of monitoring school performance, participants also heard a warning about the risks of limiting pupils' horizons.

Bill Coyle, its leading expert in assessing schools, said schools should not "get hung-up" over basing judgments on previous pupil performance. Mr Coyle cited the case of nine pupils who were advised not to take Highers because their Standard grades were not good enough, and went on to record passes that included a couple of A grades.

"The important thing is to get pupils into the Higher programme and then allow them to succeed at various levels," he said.

Mr Coyle said that allowing scope for pupils to develop in fifth year was particularly important for boys. Girls tended to reach their potential by fourth year.

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