Comment: Targets must be scrapped

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The Independent Online

Within two weeks of coming to power in 1997, Labour announced that its key target was to deliver on its promise to raise education standards. In other words, it wanted 80 per cent of 11-year-olds to reach the required standard in literacy for children of their age in the national curriculum tests, and 75 per cent to reach that standard in maths.

Within two weeks of coming to power in 1997, Labour announced that its key target was to deliver on its promise to raise education standards. In other words, it wanted 80 per cent of 11-year-olds to reach the required standard in literacy for children of their age in the national curriculum tests, and 75 per cent to reach that standard in maths.

Today it will be revealed that the Government has failed in this endeavour. That is yet another depressing piece of news for the Education Secretary Estelle Morris. It comes at a time when she is under pressure as never before over the A-level fiasco. But really she is not doing too badly on literacy and numeracy. When Labour first came to power, four out of 10 11-year-olds were failing to reach the required standard in maths and English. Now it is only one in four. The Government's cherished compulsory literary hour and daily maths lesson in primary schools have played a major role in raising standards.

What today's results do is to question the whole concept of target setting. Maybe improvements in standards could have been achieved if the literacy hour and maths strategy had been introduced without targets. Maybe schools should have been left to develop their own individual targets for their pupils, without bureaucrats intervening with a national target. The likelihood is that pupils would not have done as well.

The question is whether the Government should let up now. It has already set another target for the same national curriculum tests for 2004. That requires 85 per cent of pupils to reach the required standard in both subjects. And that target was set before anyone knew whether ministers could reach the 2002 target. Surely, at the very least, it would have been better to wait for the 2002 test results before setting new targets. Headteachers have already talked about boycotting the new targets and setting their own. We think the targets should be scrapped and rethought. Otherwise, we will be talking about another failure in two years' time. The message to ministers must be – put your effort and our resources into working with the less able children in the classroom, rather than sitting round a table dreaming up new targets that may never be reached.

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