Tracking teachers?

6th June 2003 at 01:00
Unions fear that a new pupil assessment system will be used to judge staff as well as children.

Headteachers will be able to use a new government computer system for tracking pupils' progress to judge and compare the performance of every teacher.

Teacher unions reacted angrily to an announcement by Education Secretary Charles Clarke that CD-Roms which will be sent to schools in September will enable heads to identify weak departments.

The Pupil Achievement Tracker (PAT) will allow teachers to see how a child's past and present results compare with those of similar pupils in other schools and predict how they should perform in the future.

Teachers fear heads will use it to blame staff whose pupils get poor results. Parents will have access to the data if schools choose to share it with them.

Ministers have stressed that the prime function of the system is to help teachers spot pupils who need extra support or are not being sufficiently challenged by a "coasting" school. In a speech to the Specialist Schools Trust, Mr Clarke said the programme was a justification for testing because PAT would "help teachers improve the life chances of every one of their pupils".

Unions fear that senior staff and, possibly, parents will use it to judge individual teachers.

John Bangs, head of education for the National Union of Teachers, said:

"Teachers will feel edgy about this. There is a real danger that it will be used as an assessment of teachers. Teachers could be held solely responsible for the performance of their pupils when there are all sorts of other factors."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, confirmed that headteachers would want to use the tracker to evaluate teachers' performance. But he said that heads would be careful to "avoid making every pupil's test result become a grade on their teacher".

Research by the Office for Standards in Education indicates that pupil assessment is good in only 38 per cent of schools.

The PAT is a revamped version of the Department for Education and Skills'

interactive autumn package, which hundreds of schools have been using for three years to compare pupil data with national trends.

The new programme, produced by BYG Sytems in Nottingham, is different because it allows teachers to analyse results on a pupil-by-pupil basis, graph what outcome their work should have, and set targets for individual students, classes and departments.

Ministers have suggested PAT is part of a new campaign to promote "Assessment for Learning". However, the choice of phrase has angered academics who have championed assessment for learning, an approach that focuses on giving pupils feedback which helps them improve rather than marks to tell others how they are performing.

Professor Dylan Wiliam of King's College, London, said: "It's a complete misuse - the Government has hijacked it. Their computer program is like an advanced global positioning system. It may pinpoint where a hiker is down to five feet rather than 50, but it still doesn't tell them where they should be going or how they should get there - which is the whole point of assessment for learning."

A spokesman for the DfES said that parents would not have direct access to the program but that schools would be encouraged to share information from it with them.

Leader, 22

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