Targets need to be something you can palm off on someone else...

13th February 2004 at 00:00
..., usually an enthusiastic NQT who you secretly know hasn't got time to do it

Gemma We've been doing our department development plan. A fascinating document, I'm sure you would agree. Having carefully reviewed last year's targets, we had an earnest discussion about what we'd achieved - or not - and why. We took stock, then started to plan the next step towards making our department the best it could be. It was an edifying and educational experience. We ended the session renewed and refreshed, and departed for our lessons full of the joys of teaching, and determined to give that bit extra.

Well, that was what I told my line manager. What actually happened was that, since taking over as head of department, I'd failed to register the existence of our development plan, much less work out where we kept it. After I'd turned the office upside down and managed to locate some plans from the 1970s, I finally found it in a file left by my predecessor marked "Miscellaneous". It contained loads of targets that bore no resemblance to anything we'd been doing for the past six months, but as the head was scanning the corridors looking in on departmental meetings, I grabbed it, wondering if the 1975 version might not serve me better. Surely we've written up schemes of work since then?

We spent the first hour of our allotted three arguing about whose turn it was to bring biscuits, and trying to pull straws for who would risk the wrath of the SMT and sneak out to the shops to buy some. We spent an hour looking at last year's targets, trying to decide which idiot set them. The first day of term in January 2003 must have been unseasonably sunny or something. Maybe we'd all had a glass of leftover Christmas wine with our extra-strong-beginning-of-term coffee. I, of course, tried to lay the blame for each offending target on various members of my department while remembering secretly that many of the more worthy (and completely unworkable) ideas had been mine.

It's easy to think up targets galore when you're a bright-eyed, optimistic second-in-department and you know that in that awful box "person responsible" will be that wonderful acronym, HoD. You get the credit for thinking up barmy ideas, but you don't have the hassle of implementing them. Middle management used to be so much fun.

I realise there is an art to writing targets. Preferably, they need to be things you're already doing. That's where the "achievable" part of Smart (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-related) targets comes in. Your targets need to be things that you can palm off on someone else, usually some enthusiastic NQT in your department who you secretly know hasn't got time to do it, but you push aside the guilt and give it to her anyway.

My favourite new trick is one that I learned from another wily head of department, who said that in the "person responsible" box, you should put "pending SMT agreement". Then you simply forget to get permission from your line manager, never get the agreement, and merrily blame the hapless member of the senior management team when you haven't met the target next year.

I'm beginning to like this way of thinking. That took us into the second hour of our meeting.

Watch this space for more Machiavellian manoeuvres

Gemma Warren is head of inclusion at a London secondary school. Email:

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