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The BBC's Kim Catcheside
"We are already the most tested nation in Europe"
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Monday, 2 July, 2001, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
Maths goal for teenagers lowered
Recent results and the targets schools have been set
The government has lowered its expectation of how many 14 year olds in England will reach the standard of maths expected for their age by 2004.

By 2004
75% reaching Level 5 in English, maths and ICT
70% in science
By 2007
85% reaching Level 5 in English, maths and ICT
80% in science
New targets for the national curriculum test results were announced on Monday by the Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, who said they were "challenging".

They are that, by 2004, 75% of 14 year olds will be expected to reach Level 5 - the level expected for their age - in English, maths and information and communication technology (ICT). The figure for science is 70%.

But the targets announced last October by her predecessor, for consultation, included a higher figure for maths: 80%.

There is also now a target that no local education authority will have less than 65% of its pupils at Level 5 and above in English and maths, and 60% in science by 2004.

The ICT target relates to teachers' assessments of their pupils' progress - there is no national curriculum test in the subject.

'Not targets'

The Department for Education said later that the 2004 figures were not targets but "milestones" against which schools could pace themselves - the national "targets" were the 2007 ones.

These are confirmed at 85% of pupils achieving Level 5 in English, maths and ICT, and 80% in science.

The general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, who welcomed the lower maths target, said this was "a ridiculous distinction".

"If they are trying in some way to admit they have set too many targets for schools then I guess that's a step in the right direction, but milestones are just as bad as targets," he said.

He said schools would continue to focus on achievement in public exams at the ages of 16 and 18.

"No school leaver has ever been asked by a potential employer what they scored in their Key Stage 3 tests."

There are no 2007 targets for local education authorities, however. Progress is to be reviewed in 2004.

The department said: "The LEA minimum performance targets for 2004 are designed to narrow the attainment gap at Key Stage 3 and will serve a different purpose from setting high aspirations for attainment at national level."

Recruitment problems

The leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, David Hart, said there was a chronic shortage of English and maths teachers and schools with recruitment problems might not be able to meet their targets.

david hart
David Hart: "Some schools will struggle"
He said the minimum LEA target was especially unfair on areas with the worst recruitment problems, such as London and the South East.

"This is a classic example of the political agenda over-riding educational common sense," Mr Hart said.

In last year's Key Stage 3 tests, the percentage of 14 year olds achieving level 5 or above was 64% in English, 65% in maths and 59% for science.

The results from this year's tests - taken in May - have not yet been published, although they are known to individual schools and will be reported to parents at the end of term.

Primary dividends

The actual targets to be attained within each school are a matter for discussion between schools and their education authorities.

They might be higher or lower than the national averages Ms Morris has announced.

"We need to transform the achievements of 11 to 14-year-old pupils," she said.

"Ambitious targets in primary schools have paid great dividends and are crucial to delivering higher standards. We want to build on that strategy to improve standards at Key Stage 3.

"The targets for 14 year olds we are announcing today, following consultation, are challenging ones."

She heard what the unions were saying about recruitment.

"We know there's a problem in recruiting sufficient maths teachers in particular but that doesn't mean we don't have targets, it means we do whatever we can to meet our recruitment target."

More resources

Ms Morris said there would be a new strategy focusing on raising standards among 14 year olds.

Plucking targets from the sky which are not evidence based and may be unachievable by individual schools merely leads to a narrowing of the curriculum

NUT leader, Doug McAvoy
"We are determined to build on the successful literacy and numeracy strategies in primary schools. But it will also meet the needs of older pupils and the more diverse and complex nature of the secondary curriculum."

So 428m was being spent over the next three years, with new "frameworks" for the teaching of English and maths.

Ms Morris praised teachers in primary schools for what they had achieved but said much still needed doing there.

There were targets for Key Stage 2 - the 11 year olds - which still had to be met by 2002.

The leader of the National Union of Teahers, Doug McAvoy, said the government had not learnt from the problems created by those targets.


The new ones would create even more bureaucracy for teachers and additional pressure.

"The government demands accountability but fails to recognise that plucking targets from the sky which are not evidence based and may be unachievable by individual schools merely leads to a narrowing of the curriculum with teachers being forced, more and more, to teach to the test," he said.

The Liberal Demoracts' education spokesman, Phil Willis, said the new policy was in effect a smokescreen to hide the acute shortage of maths, English and ICT teachers.

"Testing children without providing an adequate supply of well-qualified, well-motivated and specialist teachers is meaningless," he said.

"Everybody knows that weighing children does not make them heavier."

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See also:

16 Oct 00 | Education
Secondary schools in targets drive
26 Jun 01 | Education
New certificate for school leavers
28 Jun 01 | Education
Head resigns after 'fiddling' tests
20 Sep 00 | Education
Primary school test results improve
20 Sep 00 | Education
Schools challenge test results
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