Targets gamble will not pay off, heads say;NAHT Conference
FEWER than half the headteachers questioned by researchers believe their schools will meet the national targets for 11-year-olds - on which Education Secretary David Blunkett has staked his job.
The Government is determined that by 2002, 75 per cent of 11-year-olds will have achieved level 4 in maths and 80 per cent level 4 in English. Mr Blunkett and his two junior ministers have said they will resign if the targets are not met.
But a survey conducted by Peter Tymms and Jane Stout from Durham University shows that only 49 per cent of heads believe they will hit their individual school targets, with small schools facing particular problems.
Estimates from councils were little better. About 54 per cent of local authorities expect to reach their age 11 targets in maths and 51 per cent in English in 2002.
The findings were based on responses from two-thirds of English councils and 320 heads in a study backed by the National Association of Head Teachers.
They are particularly embarrassing to the Government, following reports that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority lowered the pass mark in this year's reading, writing and spelling tests for 11-year-olds.
David Hart, NAHT general secretary, urged ministers to start dealing with averages and ranges rather than targets based on specific percentage points.
He said: "I do not want David Blunkett and his fellow ministers to walk the plank just because they don't get the necessary key stage 2 results.
"I think David Blunkett is a very good Secretary of State. It is sad that there has been this public declaration. These targets are so much in the political domain there is grave danger of their skewing the whole educational debate."
Heads complained of being pressured by councils to meet the targets, of the threat of being named and shamed and of being identified to the Office for Standards in Education.
Mr Hart said heads could lose their jobs, budgets could be taken away from governing bodies while individual teachers could find themselves subjected to competency procedures. "This is not a painless process," he said.
"This is not an arcane academic argument. It is a very stringent agenda - it makes the Conservatives standards agenda look like a tea party."
A Department for Education and Employment spokesman acknowledged that the targets were challenging but said the Government was confident that they would be met.