Truce on target-setting

12th June 1998 at 01:00
Directors broker 'school ownership' deal with Scottish Office to head off revolt by local authorities

LEADING directors of education have reached an interim accommodation over target-setting with the Secretary of State and the Education Minister. The deal appears to give schools more flexibility, thus heading off a threatened revolt by local authorities.

The Association of Directors of Education in Scotland had advised members not to submit agreed targets to the Scottish Office until they received satisfactory assurances, particularly about publishing information on school performance.

Shelagh Rae, the association's president, who led the delegation, said after meeting Donald Dewar and Brian Wilson on Monday: "We have been reassured by the statements made and the agreements reached. As an association, we are supportive of the Government's initiative and were anxious that our experience in taking it forward locally should be used to address concerns about certain aspects."

According to the directors, Mr Dewar and Mr Wilson repeated assurances that "schools had to have ownership of their targets and that there needed to be a degree of flexibility in agreeing them, particularly in this first round of the initiative. They also acknowledged that, while there needed to be openness and accountability between schools and their parents, it was not their intention that a naming and shaming approach be adopted."

A compromise on how to publish data on schools' progress towards targets was hammered out, resolving an issue that had deadlocked the Government's standards action group. Each school will have to inform parents of its targets early next session and education authorities will publish information for their own areas "within broad parameters to be discussed and agreed".

No national league tables identifying individual schools will be published at this stage. Agreement was reached that HMI's audit unit "would collate targets nationally for management purposes and, if requested for information on individual schools, would refer enquirers to local authorities".

This will please critics concerned that schools could end up in the dock for a poor performance based on a schools characteristics index which is seen as flawed. But it should also appeal to those, such as Douglas Osler, the head of the Inspectorate, and Elizabeth Maginnis, the education authorities' leader, who have argued that tables could be compiled by the media anyway simply by ringing round authorities and schools.

The agreement covers secondary schools only. The prospect of primary league tables, based on the same contentious characteristics index compiled from free meals as well as 5-14 test results, has alarmed the directorate. The association and ministers therefore accepted that the publication and monitoring of 5-14 targets "were more complex and required further discussion".

Mr Dewar and Mr Wilson have also agreed that HMI should allow a broader interpretation of the "exceptional circumstances" which will permit schools and education authorities to vary targets which are seen as too stiff.

Mr Wilson said later: "The outcome of our discussion confirms in my own mind that most of the difficulties which exist on this issue are quite capable of resolution through sensible discussion."

Accompanying Mrs Rae at the meeting were Michael O'Neill of North Lanarkshire, the ADES's vice-president, John Travers of North Ayrshire, the past president, and Anne Wilson of Dundee, the general secretary.

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