Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Government By Targets

Figures released by the Department for Children, Schools and Families today showed that Conservative-controlled Kent County Council had the highest number of schools failing to reach the Government’s target of 30 per cent of pupils getting five A* to C grade passes at GCSE including maths and English.
This target of is meaningless, ridiculous and counter productive, because it focuses on the number of schools achieving certain targets rather than the numbers of pupils.

The Independent highlights Kent because it has a selective system* (although the report mentions Leeds & Suffolk too) Obviously Secondary Moderns will have lower than pass rates at GCSE than Comprehensives, all things being equal, and the Grammars will have higher pass rates.

However what matters in not what pass rate a school has, but what actual real flesh and blood children get. It is quite possible that the average child in Kent has a higher than average chance of achieving 5 or more GCSEs in Kent than in a non selective area, I don't know if this is the case because that data does not appear to be available. If this is the case then Kent could end up simultaneously reducing the number of failing schools but increasing the number of failing pupils.

It creates perverse incentives for education authorities, by forcing them to focus on schools rather than pupils, it becomes more beneficial to them to restrict parental choice so that failing schools aren't deprived of fresh victims rather than allowing successful schools to expand.

The use of arbitrary and unhelpful targets isn't simply the result of the personal failings of Ed Balls, it is an inevitable consequence of trying to run every school in the country from the ministry.

* See here for previous thoughts on Grammars and Comprehensives. In short neither system is ideal and they are not the only two options.


Mark Wadsworth said...

F*** the lot of them.

Vouchers is the way forward (as you said yourself). Whether schools then select by ability to pay top-up fees, intelligence, sporting or musical ability, gender, religion, race, shoe-size or favourite football team is of no concern to me.

If results are bad, then blame the schools/parents/children but I don't see what this has to do with the government/taxpayer (apart from funding the vouchers to level the playing field a bit, education is a borderline public good, after all).

James Higham said...

actual real flesh and blood children

Are there any other kind, Ross? As for the issue, Mark said it above.

Ross said...

"Are there any other kind, Ross?"

Yes, statistical ones who exist to provide useful political cover.