Before I start let me lay out my 2 guiding principles on this - setting targets is centralising, pointless, New Labour nonsense. And providing a better education for our pupils is always a good thing.
Today's EDP let on a frontpage splash that Norfolk Heads are fuming about the standard at which a school is considered to be failing is going to be risen from a 35% A*-C pass rate to a 50% one. In the article, a couple of the Heads move into very political territory accusing Mr Gove of all sorts of things. They are needless to say wrong. As one Head said in the story, even this new tougher target would mean that at a school deemed not failing, half the pupils would leave school without the core skills, things like English and Maths. Are we really saying that we are happy with a system where half of children are not passing the accepted standards? Of course not. Geeting barely a third of kids through their GCSEs is simply not good enough. And there isn't a Head or a teacher I know that thinks it is. If you aspire for the teaching & learning in your school to be better, then you don't just aim for 35.01% pass rate, you aim for every pupil who can pass to pass. I hope that along with this targets comes reform and support for schools who don't reach it. If it does then it isn't a bad thing. A non-teaching friend of mine today said, "so you mean half of kids can effectively fail and at the moment that isn't something we are really worried about? We only panic when 2 out of 3 fail?". When put like that ...
... but on the other hand the thing which is going to make education better isn't the target. New Labour had targets for all sorts of things, most of which were missed. I would suggest to Mr Gove that he ought to up the target still - 60%, 84%, 97% - heck, 100%!! Because that is what we want. All pupils being ready for the world outside of school. Not stuff full on "soft" subjects and a few "equivalents" here and there. Every pupil with good GCSE results; and oddly enough I think that really is the laudable aim of Mr Gove and the government team. But it isn't going to happen.
The public comments on the EDP story tore into the Heads for their lack of ambition. And herein I think is where Mr Gove has got it wrong. Giving a general target for all schools is wrong. There should be challenging targets set for each individual school that looks at CVA, intake, the curriculum they are taught and progress being made. Why should a school that moves from 29% to 34% (thus missing the current target) be considered worse than one that goes from 75% to 74%? CVA is a far better form of measurement than raw scores anyway. We measure all the times in school - we assess like crazy; AfL here, KS2 to KS4 there and yet we cannot find a way of differentiating the targets that we have? And if the school meets those targets, year on year, they should have more freedoms. If they do not, then they get support.
So please Mr Gove. We all want our schools to be better and under you they will be. But give each school a specific, dare I say differentiated, target and judge them against that rather than some faux national standard.
Put it this way, if I stood up in front of my mixed ability Year 10 History class and demanded a minimum C grade target for all pupis, irrespective of ability would that be a good thing? On one hand yes because it is ambitious, but on the other it is doomed to failure and may even alienate the kids who know they cannot achieve that. That is the problem and why I end up facing both ways on targets.