Wednesday, 8 June 2011

All about targets

Went to my first Curriculum and Standards sub-committee meeting recently- it turned out to be a lot more about standards or rather targets than curriculum.  (These are set externally for each school and for different groups of pupils in great deal.)  Staff gave a detailed account of the work being done with carefully selected students in the special needs groups on a one-to-one basis to ensure that targets which the school would otherwise miss were going to be met.  My first question, which I didn't have the courage to ask,  would be: 'Are these the ones you would have opted to spend more time on if it hadn't been a question of otherwise missing targets?' and secondly': What about the ones who don't get selected for this extra attention? 

It's already clear to me that the whole targets area is incredibly complicated and I would love to know how many of the governors have a real understanding of this area.  For example, it was only as a result of my asking the question that I found out that post-16 targets, unlike  pre-16 ones, are set by the deputy head (based on ALICE (?) tests of attainment and IQ).  If you don't really understand the targets and the data being collected then it's very difficult to pick out salient facts amongst the morass of statistics being presented.

And then there are the acronyms - at the end of the meeting I turned to the person on my right and then to her neighbour asking what RAP meetings were - neither of them knew, one confessing that she was only the on the board as the link person with Connexions (Career Advice and Guidance service provider).  Turns out to be an internal acronym meaning raising achievement and progress, I think.  We have been given at least one glossary of terms but it's still not enough.

The head presented a proposal to re-organise the technology department.  This included child care which had been put in with something completely unsuitable like textiles. Remembering that they also offered social care which was in with humanities I questioned this proposal pointing out the overlap between the two care subjects.  Had I not remembered that social care was also offered this artificial separation would not have been discussed.  It strikes me that you really need to have the school's curriculum and structure at its fingertips if you are to question decisions.  The answer given had apparently more to do with individual staff members and where they could best be fitted in and what they could best be used for rather than any logic deriving from the subjects. 

The government White Paper was already beginning to have an impact on the school's thinking - even before it's been approved.  The pathway for the most able pupils was being designed to enable them to achieve the English Bacc (by including opportunities for a modern language, for example.)  As they didn't know what role BTEC qualifications would play in league tables pupils would be steered towards science and away from design/technology.  One governor asked an astute question about how the different pathways (sets) were presented to parents.  The response was that they offered different diets appropriate to student needs, for example those in pathway 2 would get a lot more English than those in pathway one because the former would have achieved a lower grade e.g. 3/4.  This meant that they would be weaker generally in the humanities. (Teacher assessments, CATs, and SATs are taken into account when students are placed in particular pathways.)  There are opportunities to move between pathways throughout the year in particular subjects such as maths. 

The other main topic of discussion was the citizenship curriculum.  As I know from my own research/development work in this area this is a subject which is often squeezed to make room for other 'more essential' subjects in the curriculum.  Citizenship, PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education and religion are now being offered via a floating period which rolls through the time-table each week rather than having a fixed time for each pupil. I wasn't quite sure  how the new (?) policy being presented otherwise differed from what was previously on offer although there was reference to encouraging pupils to become more active both in the school community and outside for example, adopting causes to fund raise or campaign for - citizenship pledges. The house system and these pledges are now supposed to be key to the delivery of citizenship.  It remains to be seen how committed form tutors etc will be to working with young people in this way or whether this is primarily about easing pressure on the timetable.  I did ask about training needs for teachers and was told that there will be one session on this.  The policy is to be monitored but I wonder in practice how you find out whether it's really being taken seriously.     

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