Targets and creativity

23rd May 2003 at 01:00
Excellence and enjoyment in primary classes are not mutually exclusive, argues Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education.

On Tuesday this week I launched Excellence and Enjoyment: A Strategy for Primary Education. In it, I set out my belief that excellence and enjoyment must go hand in in hand in primary schools.

Excellent teaching inspires children and helps them enjoy their learning; and enjoyable learning helps children do better. I know that The TES has been running a Target Creativity campaign, and I am passionately committed to creative teaching in schools. I support that part of the campaign with my whole heart. Where I disagree is with the idea that creativity is diminished by having high aspirations for children - which is what targets are all about.

Excellence and Enjoyment is my own Target Creativity campaign - but what it says is that we need both targets and creativity if we're going to succeed.

You have probably read a great deal this week about what I announced on targets and testing. Just to be clear - as I said at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers' conference - targets, testing and tables are here to stay. Each of them plays a vital role in supporting excellent education for children.

Targets show our aspirations for children and help us aim high on their behalf - especially at key stage 2, because we know that how children do at key stage 2 affects their life-chances so much. Children who get Level 4 have a 70 per cent chance of getting five good GCSEs; children who don't only have a 12 per cent chance.

Testing helps teachers assess pupils' progress and plan learning that meets their needs; it gives everyone confidence that there are objective underpinnings for the judgments that are made about children.

And tables make sure that everyone - not just the educationally literate - has access to clear information about schools. But if targets, testing and tables are going to do these important jobs we need to be prepared to refine and strengthen them so that they really do support good teaching and learning. So, following discussions with headteachers up and down the country I propose these four steps:

* I will give schools more control of the target-setting process at key stage 2 to ensure they have targets they own and believe in. We want schools to set stretching targets based on what they know about individual pupils' achievements, and on high aspirations about the value they themselves can add. Local authority targets will be set after school targets, rather than before, so that schools that have worked carefully to set targets based on what they know about children aren't asked to do it again because their targets don't add up to the right number.

* At key stage 1, we will trial an approach in a limited number of schools next year in which test results are used to underpin teacher assessment, rather than being reported separately. In the trial, there will still be national tasks and tests, set by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, but we will give teachers more flexibility about when and how they are used. We will look carefully at the results to see how robust this system is, and to consider the impact on workload.

* I have announced a consultation on the treatment of children with special educational needs in performance tables. An important step will be to improve value-added measures so that there is recognition for the performance of all children, including those working below the level of the tests, but I am open to other suggestions.

* Finally, I will consult the profession on finding ways in which more rounded judgments about schools can be reflected in performance tables.

A huge number of views have been expressed this week about these proposals.

They range from those that say that this does not go far enough to those that think this is "going soft" on testing. I think that broadly speaking there are two possible views that can be taken. The first view is that teachers and schools need continual pressure if standards are to keep on rising. Anything that lets the pressure off or gives schools more control will mean that we fall into an abyss of woolly thinking, and that we fail children because standards fall.

The second view - and in my view the right one - is that teachers are committed, intelligent, professional people who understand the strides that have been made in recent years, and want desperately to help to raise standards for their children, and give them the education they deserve.

They themselves are prepared to set rigorous targets for improvement, using information about children thoughtfully to do that.

There are plenty of people who will only be too ready to look for a drop in standards which they think must inevitably follow any reduction in pressure. I am determined that teachers will prove them wrong. I hope that you are equally determined.

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