Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the National Association of Head Teachers (PST 02)

  1.  This is a short Memorandum dealing with key points.

  David Hart, General Secretary of NAHT will supplement these points when he gives evidence on 31 October.

  2.  The NAHT supports target setting at school level. It is good management practice. It could lead to measurable improvements in performance. It has other beneficial spin-offs, ie training and professional development opportunities. But target setting at government or national level is of a different order. It throws up a number of difficult issues which have not yet been resolved.

  3.  The Treasury negotiates funding with spending departments. This process is supported by public service agreements that incorporate targets. In the case of the DfES, key targets cover attainment at Key Stages 1, 2 and 3 (test results) and at Key Stage 4/16-19 and beyond (examination results). We do not believe that there has been any in-depth intellectual argument that supports the particular targets sought. There is a distinct feeling amongst school heads that some are even "plucked out of the air" eg to reduce exclusions by a third.

  4.  The net result is that the DfES enters into negotiations with Local Education Authorities and requires the LEAs to sign up to targets (particularly academic targets) which, when aggregated, support the national targets. This process appears to involve a degree of coercion accompanied by monetary incentives or threats of action against those not prepared to sign up. This has led to some pretty extreme target figure demands on LEAs in relation to Key Stage 2 for 2004. It has certainly led to the NAHT issuing guidance to its members to ignore national/LEA targets and to concentrate on agreeing challenging, but attainable, targets for their own schools.

  5.  By-products of this agenda are Local Public Service Agreements. We attach a copy of a paper circulated by North Yorkshire County Council which indicates the promise of financial rewards for hitting targets across education and other services.[2]

  6.  The Government is quite rightly committed to give schools more autonomy and to respect the professional judgement of school leaders, accompanied, of course, by a high degree of accountability. The question has to be asked whether Public Service targets, as they are presently rolled out, are in conflict with autonomy.

  7.  National targets that are supported by a strong political imperative can have potentially difficult consequences. For instance, over close government involvement in test or examination results can easily lead to the accusation that the goalposts on standards are being moved for political ends. We are sure that this is not the case but if Public Service targets are here to stay then at the very least they ought to be "above suspicion".

David Hart, General Secretary

October 2002

2   Ev. not printed. Back

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