Investigation agreed into impact of target culture on learning

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A union is to launch an “urgent investigation” into the impact of target-setting on pupils, staff and learning.

It comes as a survey found that more than half of education professionals believe target-setting has a negative impact on young people, making them fear failure and increasing their anxiety.

The research by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) involved responses from more than 940 of its members and came alongside a motion calling for the investigation at its annual conference in Manchester last week.

The motion, approved unanimously, instructed the union to investigate the impact of target-setting on pupils, staff and learning “as a matter of urgency”. 

Berkshire teacher Martyne Ellard, who moved the motion, said: “How many of the targets being set in schools across the country are meaningless and unrealistic? How many schools are using targets to bully staff? How many schools are using targets to the detriment of our young people?”

Ms Ellard also raised fears that with the introduction of performance-related pay the use of “unattainable” targets could get worse.

In the survey, 53 per cent of teachers and school leaders said that the culture of target-setting made their students “fear failure” and “stressed”, while 49 per cent said they increase anxiety and 42 per cent that they lower self-esteem. 

Furthermore, 54 per cent said that targets had a negative or very negative impact on the quality of teaching. Six in 10 said targets made them teach to the test, while 36 per cent admitted making students spend as much time as possible practising tests. 

One secondary teacher from Milton Keynes told the researchers: “Teachers and schools continually try to learn new ways of meeting targets which are actually impossible to achieve. Heads are scared of failing to reach targets and that anxiety is passed on to teachers.”

Another secondary teacher from Buckinghamshire said their targets were often unrealistic: “GCSE targets are based on key stage 2 results and a computer programme that says what a child ‘should’ get. The ‘data’ is inflexible and fails to take individual circumstances into account.”

Dr Mary Bousted, ATL general secretary, said: “An over-emphasis on targets is having a hugely detrimental impact on children’s education. In too many cases meeting the targets seems to be more important than children learning and gaining important knowledge and skills. 

“Many teachers complain about being set unrealistic or fallacious targets which have little regard for the children they are teaching.”

 


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