What do they mean?

9th April 2004 at 01:00
Target-setting was first practised at the William Tell primary school near Lucerne, where it was the high point of the annual sports day. Well, for most people it was. The teachers particularly enjoyed it. A week before the event, they would identify the most hopeless child in the school, and send his father an apple; on the day, they gave him a crossbow. (The children, who weren't too keen on this, used to retaliate by giving apples to the teachers they most detested. This custom was widely misunderstood.) Apart from being great fun, target-setting produced a rise in the school's academic standards, and naturally it soon attracted the interest of the Department for Education and Skills. For legal reasons, they had to make one or two changes: EU regulations forbid the mistreatment of fruit. So in their version, you set up a target and fired children at it. Unfortunately, the DfES had completely missed the point. The beauty of the old system was that failure led to success. In their version, failure led to failure.

Their solution was simple: move the target so that you can't miss it. Now, schools will be able to set their own targets. These, according to the DfES, will be targets they can own and believe in, but that will be nonetheless ambitious. There is mention of aims for adding value.

We at St Jude's are delighted that the DfES is finally coming round to our way of thinking, although there is still some way to go. We have owned and believed in our own targets for years; admittedly some of them are full of holes, but that's just through excessive use. We are enthusiastic practitioners of appropriate stretching, which we do in our sound-proofed basement. Some of the other requirements are a little tricky: our school motto, "Abandon ambition all ye who enter here", may have to be changed. As for adding value, our aims have rather tended to remove it permanently. But we are confident that, by assigning all future intake with negative values to begin with, we will be able to show a year-on-year improvement. After all, we're not twinned with the William Tell primary school for nothing.

timhomfray@aol.com

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