Ministers fail to hit more than half of education targets

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The Government will fail to meet more than half of its targets for improving standards in schools, the Department of Education has admitted.

The Government will fail to meet more than half of its targets for improving standards in schools, the Department of Education has admitted.

Ministers have braced themselves to miss 16 out of 29 school targets, which were set in the 2000 and 2002 spending reviews, after the Department of Education's annual report revealed this year's exam results will fail to improve enough to meet their flagship targets.

There is also concern in the department that targets for GCSE exams and tests taken by 14-year-olds in English and information technology will not be met. Goals for primary schools will be closely watched as the Government's failure to hit an earlier target contributed to the resignation of Estelle Morris, Charles Clarke's predecessor as Education Secretary.

The Department of Education set a target of 85 per cent of 11-year-olds achieving the required standard for their age group in English and maths tests taken last month. But the report admits that this is now out of reach and that ministers have pinned their hopes on achieving this target by 2006.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the problem was caused by the Government's desire to set a target for every initiative. "This shows the incoherence in Government policy. Every time there is an initiative, ministers introduce a new target. Ministers need to stick to a few things and do them well," she said.

Primary schools were heralded as the major success of Labour's first term after children's literacy and numeracy results showed rapid improvements. But these early gains were followed by several years of no, or little, improvement. Last summer, only 75 per cent of 11-year-olds reached the required standard in English and 73 per cent in maths.

Other high-profile failures are expected to include the promise to increase the proportion of pupils achieving five good GCSE passes by two percentage points each year, and the pledge to have no school where fewer than 20 per cent of pupils achieved this standard by this summer.

But a spokeswoman for the Department of Education and Skills said: "We make no apology for setting tough targets ... Since 1997, standards have been rising in our schools. We have more teachers than at any other time since 1981 and Ofsted says they are the best ever. More primary pupils are now able to read, write and count well, and our 10-year-olds have been recognised as being the third- best readers in the world. Results are also rising in secondary schools, with improved results at key stage three and more pupils getting five good grades [A* to C] at GCSE."

But the Department of Education's annual report describes only nine of the 29 targets as being "on course".

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the Government should abandon unrealistic targets. "The Govern- ment is digging a hole for itself by sticking with targets it clearly cannot achieve," he said.

Tim Yeo, the Conservatives' education spokesman, said: "Even by its own benchmarks, Labour is failing. However, it is Labour's benchmarks - their targets - that are failing children. Teachers are forced to spend time trying to meet them rather than concentrating on the needs of individual children."

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