Headteacher Kim Sparling explores how targets in schools can be used most effectively

Targets may be viewed as an over-used piece of educational jargon – ‘output targets’ (DCSF Specialist Schools site) and ‘indicative targets’ (Raiseonline) – but I prefer to take a more pragmatic approach and see targets as goals which we use to help us achieve what we want to achieve. There are three main areas of target setting: school targets, subject targets and student targets and of course they are intrinsically linked to each other. The DCSF has statutory targets which all secondary schools must set for two years hence:

KS3

  • Percentage attaining Level 5+ in English and maths.
  • Percentage attaining Level 5+ in science.
  • Proportion making two levels progress in English.
  • Proportion making two levels progress in maths.

KS4

  • Percentage attaining five A*-C at GCSE including English and maths.
  • Proportion making equivalent of two NC levels progress in English.
  • making equivalent of two NC levels progress in maths.
  • Percentage absence for students of compulsory school age.

Statutory requirements It is interesting to note that, for the first time, many of these targets have become statutory requirements. Previously, there were other targets such as GCSE points score and the percentage of students achieving at least one GCSE A*-G. DCSF decisions about targets change, making it difficult for anyone to detect meaningful trends. In addition to these statutory targets, if you are a specialist school applying for re-designation you have to set another set of targets. Typically these include:

KS3

  • Percentage attaining Level 5+, 6+ and 7+ in the specialist subjects.
  • Average points score in English, maths and science.

KS4

  • Percentage A*-C GCSE in the specialist subjects.
  • Percentage gaining five A*-C at GCSE.

As there is limited overlap between DCSF and specialist school targets, it seems clear that different civil servants are devising them and that they don’t talk to each other! In addition to these targets, local authorities often ‘demand’ to receive details of other targets. I believe that it is wise to be cautious. At Oldfield School in Bath, where I am headteacher, I supply only the minimum statutory targets to the local authority for external bodies to view. However, within school, we set a wide array of internal targets to help us improve. For example, internally we have retained some of the older DCSF targets which enable us to see trends over time.

Unsophisticated methods
In the past, our target setting was unsophisticated. We could use national data as set out in the old PANDA – we had school information going back over several years which allowed us to analyse how an intake cohort with a particular character performed, for example in SATs or at GCSE level. We also relied on the ‘gut reactions’ of staff who felt a particular year group was a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ year. Nowadays with CAT scores, Raiseonline and Fischer Family Trust data, schools are able to set targets based on sounder information.

Clearly each school’s circumstances are unique and the targets set have to be appropriate for the school. We use FFT ‘D’ targets which are challenging and aim to put us in the top 25% of schools because this fits in with the profile of progress usually made by students and staff at this school. It is important that the targets are sufficiently challenging but they must have a degree of realism otherwise they will be intimidating rather than motivating.

Subject targets
We set targets for all subjects, including non-National Curriculum subjects such as dance and drama. This means that at KS3 non-core subjects set Level 5+, 6+, and 7+ targets in terms of teacher assessment, alongside the core subject SATs targets.

We hold an annual review process in the autumn when each subject analyses the breakdown of levels at KS3 in comparison with targets set two years before, celebrating the hitting of targets and examining any underachievement. Governors are fully involved in the annual review of their link area, thus helping them to understand how we derive overall school targets. Using the prior attainment of the year group, we provide each subject leader at KS4 with suggested targets for A*-C and A*/A based on the specific students whom they are teaching. These suggested targets are based on FFT ‘D’ targets. At the annual review meetings the subject leader may put forward cogent reasons why a target may need to be set lower, or in fact he/she may wish to set an even more challenging, higher target. As a school we want to aim high but subject leaders know that their individual subject targets will not become ‘public property’. This probably makes them more willing to set professionally challenging targets. The targets set for each subject become the foci for teachers’ performance management ‘pupil progress’ objectives. Team leaders for performance management, usually the subject leaders, are very aware of the subject targets and where a teacher’s efforts can have the most significant effect. Gone are the days when a teacher’s pupil progress objective related to KS3, yet the area of underachievement in the subject was at KS4!

Process of analysis
The annual review process is equally important for evaluating the reasons for successful achievement of targets, as for analysing why targets weren’t met and what strategies will be employed to hit targets next time.

While the only non-subject statutory target is for attendance we set other internal targets which link with the ECM agenda. We set targets for parental attendance at parents’ evenings by year group, as well as targets by year group for student participation in extra-curricular activities. It is important that those middle leaders with responsibility for student matters have ownership of their targets, as is the case with subject leaders. Another part of the jigsaw is the students’ targets. Each student is set predicted grades in each subject they take, which means that they can judge whether they are ‘on target’ to achieve their predicted grades. Our marking policy means that students are given a National Curriculum level (at KS3) or a GCSE/GCE grade (at KS4 or 5) for their work at least six times a year. Our work monitoring procedures and lesson observations are designed to ensure that students are given guidance on how to improve their performance and therefore reach their predicted grades. Tutors have a timetabled slot throughout the year to meet with their tutees on an individual basis to discuss their progress towards subject targets. Each year we ask parents to attend an academic review day with their child. This meeting, with the tutor, is designed to discuss student targets and how parents can support their child in achieving them. Students take ownership of their targets, recording them in their contact books (homework diaries). When parents receive students’ reports they can see in each subject what the ‘target’ grade is and what the ‘current’ level of achievement is, thus giving them the relevant information to support their children.

Student targets
Once interim reports have been produced, we analyse the grades on a subject basis to check that we are roughly in line with the targets set for that subject. If this is not the case, discussions take place with subject leaders to devise strategies to get back ‘on target’. At the same time, an analysis takes place of each student with pastoral leaders following up students who appear to be ‘under-performing’ in several subjects.

Parents are informed about areas of under-performance and are asked to support school strategies to improve performance whether this is by attending a ‘catch up’ club, completing coursework or doing more thorough revision. Mock exams or module results are another opportunity to check whether school targets are likely to be met and to take further remedial action where necessary. Our approach to target setting has been validated by Ofsted in a recent inspection. In response to the question ‘How effectively leaders and managers use challenging targets to raise standards?’, the judgement was ‘outstanding’.

In line with all aspects of school life, targets need to be managed by the school leadership team so that they help, rather than interfere, with school improvement.

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