Union leaders flummoxed by executive revolt on targets

15th May 1998 at 01:00
Neil Munro reports on a controversy between the leaders and members of the EIS over co-operation with Government policy

THE LEADERSHIP of the Educational Institute of Scotland is this week wrestling with the consequences of a revolt by its executive council against target-setting.

As Douglas Osler, the head of the inspectorate, began a fightback against critics of the targets regime, the executive council decided by 33 votes to 32 that EIS members should be advised not to co-operate in setting targets in the meantime.

Peter Dickson, from the union's East Dunbartonshire local association, successfully called for a special study to be undertaken into the "educational, sociological and statistical" bases of target-setting before the union agreed to anything.

But EIS officials are concerned that this is an "ambiguous proposition" which cuts across advice already issued by the union to primary and secondary schools.

This advice urged members to ensure maximum discussion of the provisional targets within their schools and to "fight their corner" if they felt the targets were unfair.

Ronnie Smith, the union's general secretary, has now written a holding letter to his school reps, recommending they adhere to existing policy while the legal and practical consequences of the executive council's decision are thrashed out. He is particularly concerned that headteachers who refuse to implement targets might be held to be in breach of contract.

Fred Forrester, the EIS depute general secretary, said the problem with the council's motion was that discussions on target-setting are already taking place. The detailed study demanded by Mr Dickson could not be done overnight. "Since we have already advised our members to discuss the targets vigorously in schools, how can we now say we are not going to sign up to them?" Mr Forrester asked.

But the executive council's decision, narrowly based though it is, reflects the growing disquiet among teachers over the validity of the entire target-setting exercise, Mr Forrester added.

Ironically, Ronnie Smith is a member of the Education Minister's action group on standards which approved the initiative.

Mr Osler meanwhile has written in emollient terms to the Headteachers' Association of Scotland. The association had threatened that some of its members in secondary schools might refuse to agree to implement the provisional targets issued by HMI, which use a schools characteristic index based on free meals.

"The inspectorate will be monitoring the progress of the targets initiative and reporting on what it finds, including anything that significantly limits a school's ability to meet its targets," Mr Osler told the HAS.

He added that targets could only be achieved if schools ensured there was effective class organisation, stimulating teaching, high expectations from pupils, support from parents and a good school ethos.

Mr Osler also moved significantly in the last week to try to assuage critics who have taken issue with the "disempowering" nature of targets handed down from the HMI audit unit.

"We could in future turn the process round," he told a conference in North Lanarkshire, "and have schools propose the targets which would then be monitored from the centre. But for credibility and effectiveness, it is important to have a national framework."

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