Wrong tool for the job;Letter

22nd October 1999 at 01:00
ITIS sad to be cynical but experience of the education system teaches one to look a gift-horse in the mouth.

The TES Scotland (October 15) carried a report that Bill Clark, the new head of the Government's audit unit, recognises the limitations of target setting, which he described as "a useful tool but it cannot be divorced from good quality teaching and learning and from good quality management".

Goodness, he might even have been listening to headteachers like Frank Lennon of St Modan's High who recently told researchers about "pointless bureaucracy masquerading as quality assurance".

If Mr Clark acts on the belief that the regime of targets and performance indicators has to be tempered with other considerations, he will well regarded by teachers. They are sick of a system that says nothing is worth while in education unless it fits into a predetermined slot and can be measured. Good teaching is not like that.

The cynicism, however, cannot be set aside. Mr Clark's senior colleagues in the inspectorate remain thirled to number crunching. They are victims of their own obsession: having created a mechanistic system, they cannot break out from it, even when its flaws are exposed.

To retreat from its excesses would expose their political masters to accusations of slipshod disregard for school standards. So we are caught, and Mr Clark may end up caught too.

Already he is reported as sticking by free meals as the index of how a school fares in the deprivation stakes and how therefore it should be targeted. The flaws of using free meal entitlement have been well exposed, and teachers' views of targeting have been coloured by the HMI's determination not to pay any attention. I have no doubt Mr Clark went public so early in his new job as part of an HMI openness strategy. Politicians would call it spinning.

Ian Taylor Harrison Gardens, Edinburgh

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