Teacher revolt on pupil targets

17th February 2006 at 00:00
Much more paperwork, less time for teaching and few obvious benefits for children. That is the classroom judgment on personal learning planning (PLP), revealed today (Friday) in the results of an Educational Institute of Scotland survey of more than 300 members involved in the pilot phase of the national initiative.

Teachers' overwhelmingly hostile view of what most regard as yet another unresearched and bureaucratic imposition is likely to signal further trouble for the Scottish Executive, which wants all pupils from 3-14 to join in setting targets for their own learning. So far, it is on the back burner of most nursery, primary and secondary schools.

Peter Peacock, Education Minister, however, is a firm believer that this is the "big idea" in Scottish education, although he says he is alert to "concerns about manageability and workload".

The Association of Head Teachers in Scotland, representing primary heads, has already called for a boycott unless schools are happy with the resources committed to the initiative.

Ministers were warned last summer of difficulties in pushing ahead with PLP and the latest evidence supports union opinion that it is not worth the extra effort, especially with younger age groups.

George MacBride, EIS education convener, said: "The results of this survey clearly indicate that, while teachers can see the possible benefits of PLP for all pupils, they are worried that the scheme could prove unworkable unless proper steps are taken to address the problem of the additional workload which is being created.

"If local authority representatives and school management teams do not pay heed to what teachers are saying, PLP will ultimately fail."

Mr MacBride points out that teachers need extra time if they are to implement the exercise since much of the work involves one-to-one talks with pupils.

"Setting detailed targets can also prove very difficult and in some cases, particularly in the early stages of primary school, pupils will not fully understand the concept of targets," he said.

By stressing individual learning planning for pupils, the Executive was ignoring forward planning for the whole class and for groups within it.

This had major implications for class organisation and intra-class relationships.

Another important aspect was the sheer size of classes. "Clearly, PLP and large class sizes are totally incompatible," Mr MacBride said. "It would be simply impossible for any teacher to succeed in managing the PLP process for up to 33 pupils in their class."

The survey found that many pupils had problems developing their own targets, and that almost 80 per cent of teachers had eventually been forced to fill in the goals for each pupil. This had a knock-on effect on the time available for teaching, planning, preparation and correction. Only around half the teachers surveyed said they had been properly consulted on introducing personal learning planning. Few had training.

In guidance last July, the Executive said PLP should be "manageable, realistic and sustainable".

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