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Education: Schools face challenging new targets

By Richard Garner

Tough new targets for improving standards in maths and English were announced last night in the wake of yesterday's comprehensive spending review.

Teachers' leaders breathed a sigh of relief after it emerged ministers planned a bigger increase in education spending than had previously been forecast. However, they warned that the targets could lead to more "teaching to the tests", with the danger that more pupils could be put off learning.

The new targets will mean ministers expect 53 per cent off youngsters to obtain five A* to C grade passes at GCSE – including maths and English – by the end of the decade. At present, only 45 per cent do – although this figure has risen from 35 per cent in 1997.

In addition, ministers have repeated their target of getting 85 per cent of youngsters to reach the required standard in national curriculum test for 11-year-olds by the end of the decade. Previously, this target had been set for 2006 but it would need a five percentage point rise in English and nine percentage point rise in maths to achieve the target.

Martin Johnson, deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said last night: "We are unhappy about adding more targets for schools to meet – they will not solve our education problems. We already have the most tested children in Europe and one of the biggest ranges of pupil achievement."

John Dunford, general secretary of the association of School and College Leaders, added: "Schools already face an unacceptably large number of targets. School leaders want to know which targets are disappearing in order to make way for new ones."

Officials at the Department for Children, Schools and Families insisted the overall number of targets was being cut – but that it would concentrate on demanding targets for the basics.

The review revealed that spending will rise to £74bn a year by the end of the three-year comprehensive spending review period in 2010 with much of the extra cash being earmarked for building new primary schools and increasing the amount of one-to-one teaching available to state school pupils.

The figure will mean 5.6 per cent of the gross domestic product will be earmarked for education – contrasting to 4.7 per cent a decade ago.

Chancellor Alistair Darling revealed that, as a result of a decision not to raise the threshold for the inheritance tax to £1m, an extra £2bn would be ploughed into health and education spending.

It would mean, he told MPs, that the settlement for education over the next three years "will be higher than originally proposed".

Of the extra spending £250m would be used to provide personalised learning aimed primarily at those youngsters struggling to keep up in the basic three R's in class. In addition, it would fund a new primary school in every one of England's 150 local education authorities.

Teachers' leaders welcomed the increased spending but warned that schools would still have to look carefully at their priorities in view of competing demands for the extra spending.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, said: "The Government will need to support schools by rationalising and prioritising its own ambitious programme for education."

However, she added: "Since 1997, education has received unprecedented levels of investment. Education still clearly remains a key priority for the Government and the NASUWT welcomes this."

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said: "This is a very good settlement for children, schools and families. It continues the record levels of investment of the last decade and provides the resources to ensure we continue to deliver the very best for all of our young people."

In addition, a 2.5 per cent real terms increase in the science budget – bringing it to £6.3bn by the end of the decade – was also announced by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. This will amount to increased investment in basic research.

Jovan Trkulga, teacher: Money will help poorer families

For Jovan Trkulga, the announcement of a major boost in primary school spending is the most welcome feature of the comprehensive spending review.

Mr Trkulga, 39, is a supply teacher at Deptford Green primary in Lewisham, south London. He was pleased that money for more personalised learning – one-to-one tuition – will be focused on helping the children of poorer families. However, he is worried about the introduction of new targets for schools aimed at securing higher pass rates in GCSE maths and English.

"High-stakes testing has got to a ridiculous state... it is making children unhappy. Telling teachers they have to improve their children's performance is like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs."

The extra cash injection will also pave the way for 275 new primary schools.

Irish Independent


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