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Unions 2000 Saturday, 11 March, 2000, 15:58 GMT
'Targets obsession' for schools attacked
Phil Willis
Phil Willis says the government has gone 'target mad'
Alison Stenlake reports from the Secondary Heads Association's annual conference in Harrogate.

The government's education targets were attacked at a head teachers' conference on Saturday.

Both the Shadow Education Secretary, Theresa May, and the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, Phil Willis, blasted the government for the number of targets it has set for schools to achieve.

Speaking at the Secondary Heads Association (SHA) annual conference in Harrogate, they accused the government of being "obsessed" by targets, without considering the implications for schools trying to meet them.

Mr Willis said: "I think the government have gone target mad. Targets are to the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) what hula hoops were in the 1960s - they come in 25 shapes and sizes.

"There are so many targets that the DfEE cannot even quantify them.

'Sinking in a sea of bureaucracy'

"Head teachers are sinking in a sea of bureaucracy, and vital resources are being redirected. The present media target mania must be curbed. The government must rationalise its agenda, and reduce the burden on schools."
John Dunford
John Dunford wants the number of targets to be cut by half
Ms May said the government's targets were having a "very real impact" in terms of bureaucracy and workload.

And she said the education of some children was being affected as teachers under pressure to achieve the targets concentrated on "borderline" pupils - those where extra attention could make the difference between them hitting or missing the given target.

Her comments followed similar observations made by SHA general secretary John Dunford on Friday when he criticised the government's new targets for secondary schools based on the percentage of pupils who achieved five or more "good" GCSEs at grades A*-C.

He said the choice of target would lead to the neglect of both the most and least able pupils, as schools concentrated on borderline C/D cases.

Surplus places

In his speech to the conference on Saturday, Mr Dunford calculated there were 4,585 separate government targets for secondary schools to achieve.

He said: "Today I want to set one more target for the Secretary of State - to reduce the number of targets he sets by 50% in the next 12 months."

While Ms May's comments about government targets were in line with the union's own view, her comments on another topic did not go down well.

She said that under a Conservative Government, the surplus places rule would be abolished, allowing popular schools to expand, and give parents more choice in where to send their children.

Currently, schools in a local education authority cannot expand when other schools in the same LEA have surplus places.

Ms May said: "It is important for parents to be able to choose the schools they feel are best for their children."

But David Johnson, of Fair Oak High School in Staffordshire, said giving parents this choice would lead to the closure of schools in disadvantaged areas, as parents would make their choice on social grounds.

Phil Willis said that abolishing the surplus place rule would be a "frightening scenario".

"One school can only expand if other schools contract," he said.

See also:

01 Mar 00 | Education
06 Jan 00 | Education
23 Nov 99 | Education
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