Targets not so fair

24th July 1998 at 01:00
MICHAEL Barber ("No shame in setting high targets", TES, June 26) presents the literacy policy as a prime example of the Government's concern to "give equal opportunities greater priority than ever", which he boldly defines as "achieving success for everyone", "enabling the many to achieve standards that, until recently, we only provided for the few".

But the facts of the policy are:

* Its target of 80 per cent of 11-year-olds to reach level 4 by 2002 excludes 20 per cent of pupils from any improvement target.

* Rather than enabling many to achieve standards only recently attained by a few, it only aims at a further 14 per cent of pupils reaching a level already attained by two-thirds in 1997.

* The 2002 target represents more than a 60 per cent decline in the annual rate of increase in those attaining levels 4-plus between 1995 and 1997.

* Relaxation of the programmes of study of six out of 10 subjects of the primary curriculum to enable schools to concentrate more on English and maths will disadvantage many 11-year-olds in their preparation for at least half the subjects of the secondary curriculum.

* Setting a target that aims at increasing those reaching level 4, rather than at raising the average level of all pupils, will most likely promote an increasing inequity of attainment as schools concentrate most on improving those nearer the levels 34 borderline to satisfy their targets.

Between 1995 and 1997, the average level attained by the bottom quarter of 11-year-olds stuck at level 2.6 in English, while that of the next-to-bottom and top quarters rose by 0.6 and 0.4 levels respectively from levels 3. 0 to 3.6 and 4.3 to 4.7.

This was undoubtedly due to schools striving to improve their ranks in league tables narrow couched in terms of the proportions of pupils attaining levels 4-plus.

Far from promoting increasing equity, success for all and social inclusion will more likely increase the relative disadvantage of as many as the bottom quarter of 11-year-olds and their sense of failure, alienation and exclusion.

Mr Barber concludes, this "represents a redefinition of equal opportunities". Indeed it does.

Charles Bell BM Bell London WC1

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