Targets that don't add up

11th September 1998 at 01:00
May I draw to your attention some misleading information which is being circulated to secondary schools by the Audit Unit as part of its target-setting initiative?

The "Secondary Schools Support Pack" contains a summary of research findings from the major Scottish Office-funded Improving School Effectiveness Project (ISEP). This includes the rather surprising statement: "Up to one-third of variation in pupil performance in 1997 was estimated to be due to the effect of the school after taking account of prior attainment, socio-economic factors and other pupil background factors."

Secondary headteachers may have thought as I did that the figure "one-third" must be a misprint, since research by Professor Lindsay Paterson on secondary schools in Scotland showed only 1.1 per cent of variance in attainment was attributable to schools.

However, on checking with the ISEP team I have learned that the figure "up to one-third" relates to primary schools, not secondary schools, and refers specifically to primary school mathematics from P4 to P6. The figure for reading was lower, around 20 per cent.

I understand from the ISEP team that their version of the document states explicitly in referring to the figure one-third that "this is the figure for primary schools. The figure for secondary schools is up to 15 per cent. Primary schools are more varied in their effects."

It appears to me that the cut-down version of research findings currently being circulated in secondary schools gives an exaggerated impression of the extent of differences in overall attainment for which schools should be held accountable.

(Dr) Linda Croxford Senior research fellow Centre for Educational Sociology Edinburgh University

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