'We'll never make it'

Attainment targets unrealistic, say unions, but FE sector wants to push post-16s harder. Nicola Porter reports

Revised government targets for educational attainment and school attendance in Wales are still too high and are doomed to failure, according to teacher unions.

However, fforwm, which represents Wales's 23 FE colleges, says more demanding targets should be set to drive up standards among post-16 learners.

The criticisms of the Assembly government's targets are made in consultation responses to The Learning Country 2 (TLC2), its updated education strategy to 2010 published earlier this year.

TLC2 has fewer educational targets than its 2001 predecessor document, and most have been revised downwards. Despite rising standards and exam pass rates in Wales, most of the 2001 goals - including the number of pupils achieving five GCSEs at grades A*-C - were missed.

But headteacher and classroom unions have continuing concerns about funding, and say the new targets for 2010 are still too demanding. They fear increasing pressure to deliver unrealistic goals could distort the assessment system - for example, by encouraging the use of GNVQ qualifications worth four GCSE passes.

In England, the schools that have most improved in national performance tables are the ones that have embraced GNVQs and steered away from more academic subjects (TES Cymru, January 13).

The National Association of Head Teachers Cymru said that a TLC2 target that no pupil should leave school without a recognised qualification by 2010 "is not achievable and never will be".

The union also sees new lower figures for non-attendance "not being met without a huge degree of additional support".

NAHT Cymru director Anna Brychan said: "The targets are likely to drive schools down the road of taking courses which are the equivalent of four GCSE passes - leading to complete distortion of the system."

The Association of School and College Leaders Cymru claimed a TLC2 target of no secondary school having fewer than 35 per cent of 15-year-olds achieving five good GCSE passes by 2007 was "very ambitious to say the least".

Last summer, around 40 Welsh secondaries had fewer than 35 per cent of pupils achieving that pass rate.

Brian Rowlands, ASCL Welsh secretary, said: "Without adequate revenue and capital funding some, if not all, of the aspirations of TLC2 will remain aspirations."

But in its response, fforwm said meeting present education targets by 2010 would still only make Wales an "average performer" compared with other countries. It claimed more demanding targets were needed to help an additional 3.5 million adults gain an equivalent of five good GCSEs.

Meanwhile, teachers' union the NASUWT Cymru is disappointed that TLC2 fails to mention the national workload agreement. Secretary Geraint Davies said teachers' time and commitment should not be taken lightly.

And both the National Union of Teachers Cymru and UCAC, the Welsh-medium teachers union, have concerns about TLC2's focus on collaboration.

Speaking at the launch of the TLC2 document in April, Jane Davidson, the minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, said it was about a collaborative approach to benefit the learner.

For example, the 14-19 learning reforms envisage schools, colleges and work-based training providers offering a wider range of vocational courses for teenagers.

TLC2 says teachers of the future need to be more flexible and able to work across a range of subjects, age-groups and settings - from schools to colleges and work-places. But in its response, the NUT questions whether there is evidence to demonstrate that collaboration is cost-effective. And UCAC said it would be difficult to encourage true partnership based on a competitive financial system.

* nicola.porter@tes.co.uk

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