'Too complex' ethnic targets slashed

24th October 2008 at 01:00
Local authorities will be told to identify and cater for their own underachieving groups - and poorest pupils will be included for the first time

The number of education targets for children from different ethnic groups is to be slashed after the Government admitted the system was too complex.

The proposed move will see the number of performance targets that local authorities in England have to set for school-aged pupils drop from a maximum of 170 to just 42.

And, for the first time, local authorities will have to set a target to improve the performance of their poorest pupils, following research that shows class can affect pupils' performance more than race.

The Government said change is needed because its current target setting system is "extremely complex", "burdensome", "may mask the most important priorities" and does not improve standards.

The TES revealed last term that the differences between GCSE targets could be up to 10 times greater in one authority than another. The system has also been undermined by some authorities refusing to fully take part. These have set the same target for all ethnic groups.

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, welcomed the change.

He said: "The whole target-setting regime has been a pointless bureaucratic exercise.

"What government needs to do is say, 'we expect you to build up capacity to target underachieving children in your area,' and then back off."

Target-setting for local authorities was introduced in 1998 and by 2006 authorities had to set 10 targets for 17 ethnic groups.

The proposals strip this to six targets for achievement and progress at key stage 2 and key stage 4 for seven groups: black Caribbean, black African, black other, Pakistani, white other, Travellers and for children on free school meals.

Authorities will also be expected to set targets for groups in their area that perform significantly below the local authority average.

There will be no national requirement to set targets for white British, Irish, Bangladeshi, Indian, Chinese, any other Asian background or any other mixed race background.

Cathy Twist, assistant director of standards at Lambeth Council's children and young people's services, said: "We wouldn't want oversimplification of the process because that masks key areas of underperformance.

"That's not to say changes are not needed - for many years pupils from some ethnic minority groups across the country have been underachieving, with little attention being paid to successful strategies running in some local authorities to narrow the gaps."

Stephen Gorard, professor of education research at Birmingham University, said: "Slimming it down is good. But it also says these seven groups are the ones we expect to do less well.

"That's what targets mean. It possibly unintentionally condones those low expectations in a way that wouldn't do if you set targets for all of them, or none of them."

Authorities that fail to meet their targets can be challenged by the National Strategies, Ofsted and ultimately the education secretary over their work.

The new regulations are due to be published early next year.

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