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"Target Culture" in education - a good or bad thing or in between thing?

(50 Posts)
SparkyLark Sat 25-Oct-14 13:51:24

My son has started secondary school, and generally its been good and I feel the teachers doing a good job.

However, I have found the "target culture" a bit hard to come to terms with. Everything seems to be 5a or 4c or whatever, with future targets thrown in. There seems to be alot of concern with what grade you are in and the school really "tracks" student's progress. Even in art, they are constantly graded in this way which in this subject in particular is killing off his love of art for its own sake.

To be honest, it seems like a lot of micro-management and educating to grades rather than education for its own sake (which really makes me sad).

I did question the school about this, and was told it keeps the kids on their toes, as otherwise they tend to take it easy! And its also a way of measuring teacher's progress (they are also subject of target culture now).

When I went to school, it felt a little more free, apart from exams at the end of the year or GCSEs, which I think is slightly different.

Any thoughts, especially from secondary teachers?

catslife Sat 25-Oct-14 16:18:54

Know what you mean, but am surprised you've only just found out about this when your dcs started secondary school. There were target grades at primary too.
I don't think the schools have much choice about this. They have to have some sort of tracking system to meet government / OFSTED requirements e.g. for league tables and OFSTED rating.
The most important thing for pupils IMO to find out is what they need to do to improve their work, rather than be too concerned about what level they are working at.

SparkyLark Sat 25-Oct-14 17:08:26

Hi catslife, I did come across it in the last year at son's primary school. He had been attending a different school until then, and we had only briefly come across it, all credit to them I would say. As soon as he moved to a new primary school in Y6, there seemed to be a different attitude to SATS and I admit to finding all this 5a, 4b, 3c, 6a yada yada stuff all through the year rather tedious.

I assumed it was for SATS though.

So I was a bit surprised at secondary school, as I thought the grade obsession would only start as GCSEs approached.

It may be helpful in tracking lazy teachers or lazy schools, but I do find all this target culture generally suspect for want of a better word. Something about it doesn't sit right.

Apart from that so far happy with the school and the teachers.

Noodledoodledoo Sat 25-Oct-14 18:43:06

Unfortunately that is what education is becoming in this country. A number of reasons, firstly there is presure on schools to show progress at every age when they are being inspected - Ofsted (the lovely people they are) expect to see evidence of every student making progress in any lesson they walk into for however long even if it is 5 mins we need to show progress.

Without the targets for students in yr7-9 it is too late come Yr 10 if students have slipped too far in the first few years of secondary hence the constant monitoring.

Also all teachers are now awarded pay progressions based on targets set to students in their classes, so again students need to be monitored constantly to back up this measure.

As a teacher I understand the need to monitor the progress of students to avoid students coasting but I really do hate the fact that they are being used in so many ways for things other than making sure the students achieve what they should.

jeanne16 Sun 26-Oct-14 06:47:26

I think the use of Midys data is also causing issues in schools. Pupils are set target minimum grades, TMGs, based on their Midys performance in Y7. So if your DC performs badly, they will have low TMGs, which, perversely, is good for the school and teachers as any improvement shows good added value. If they have very high TMGs, then teachers are under huge pressure to ensure they meet or exceed these. That would all be fine if the Midys results were accurate. However they seem to throw up some bizarre results. Teachers are then under huge pressure to get A grades in all subjects from some struggling pupils while others who are meeting their expectations with, for example, B grades, are left to get on with it.

FlowersForAlgernon Sun 26-Oct-14 07:06:58

Different pupils react in different ways to targets / levels - so it is neither good nor bad.

What is good is I have a rough idea now how my DCs are likely to do in GCSEs (ie are they average, above or below) so if I want to help them boost their grade I have plenty of time.

One of my DC doesn't care one whit about his grades, and refused to even look at his report. He knew he was doing his best so he wasn't interested in the report.

My other DS wants to go very well and is very interested in his levels.

On the whole I think it has more benefits than drawbacks. I send my DC to school in order for them to get good A levels. And this helps everyone involved to know if everything's OK.

I'd be very anxious if I didn't get levels in KS3. Because how would I know how they were doing ? DC and teachers would just say everything's fine. Which is a meaningless comment.

Thehedgehogsong Sun 26-Oct-14 07:15:30

I'm a secondary teacher and I am a slave to those grades. I have to record a working grade for every student (I teach over 300 students) every 7 weeks and then explain anyone not on track for their end of year target, give them extra lessons, set and mark extra homeworks, and then if they still don't get their target grade I don't get my otherwise hard earned pay...
Our managers are no longer managing their staff or students, but the data.
Still, I teach what the students need to know and help them wherever I can, regardless of what the data says I should do, because they're humans not tick boxes!

TheFirstOfHerName Sun 26-Oct-14 07:19:23

My children were not aware of their targets at primary school until Y6.

In secondary school, DS1 and DS2 are 'measured' in every subject five times a year, and we are then sent data for each subject with how they are performing compared to their target.

It encourages them to revise for each half-termly test, which helps their understanding of the topic.
If they are struggling in a subject, it comes to light sooner rather than later.

The targets can be unrealistically high. All of DS1's targets are A* or A, which means that he tends to fall short of them, which is demoralising.

I think that we now live in a target-driven culture. In many jobs there are regular targets to achieve. So perhaps it is good for children to get used to this at school.

mummytime Sun 26-Oct-14 07:23:33

We have a family culture of pretty much ignoring them, unless DC exceed them. Which for one she does massively - maybe because her Midyrs grade was "wrong". She is now doing GCSE and has a "target grade" and an "aspirational grade" in at least two subjects she will exceed her aspirational. If you read it carefully as its all based on normal distributions, some people will exceed these grades and some will do worse.

Schools are under ridiculous pressure to show constant improvement, and over performing.

We also have students who now thing anything less than A* (and maybe A) is not good enough.

kesstrel Sun 26-Oct-14 08:10:42

What's wrong with bright, hardworking students thinking anything less than an A*/A isn't good enough? I think this shows a commendable desire to push themselves, to learn as much as they can, to achieve and to gain recognition for their success.

rabbitstew Sun 26-Oct-14 08:21:24

Well, it seems utterly pointless to me to set target grades for GCSEs really early on and then stick with them, regardless of reality. If a child is exceeding their targets and aspirational grades, someone should be doing a re-assessment. If no re-assessment is done, then it's glaringly obvious that the targets are not designed for the benefit of the students.

noblegiraffe Sun 26-Oct-14 08:21:37

In secondary school, DS1 and DS2 are 'measured' in every subject five times a year, and we are then sent data for each subject with how they are performing compared to their target.

This is such bollocks. Meaningless nonsense. Sublevels don't officially exist. Levels are designed to measure progress over 3 years, not 5 weeks. Progress isn't linear and attempts to micromanage it in this way is just bullshit. It annoys me that teachers are told to put out this crap as something meaningful and that parents are fed something so fictional as some sort of scientific truth.

HmmAnOxfordComma Sun 26-Oct-14 08:37:36

Ds is at an independent school where they don't use nc levels. We get effort grades every half term, and an attainment grade which more or less tells you whether they are working in the top, middle or bottom third of their set. Some individual pieces are marked in, say, English science or humanities "This was a level 6, to get a 7x do x" etc.

I find it incredibly liberating after the nonsense at primary school. He goes to a school which attains close to 50% A/A* and is working in the middle or top third of the top set in every subject. And gets a mixture of the top and second effort grade. I also look regularly through his exercise books and can see he's getting an excellent education. Not sure it would be of any benefit to have any greater micromanagement of his learning.

And Noblegiraffe is right: progress is not linear.

HmmAnOxfordComma Sun 26-Oct-14 08:51:06

That should have said A/A* in old money, of course. Given ds is yr 9 and is doing the new GCSEs in some subjects, it's probably a good job I am not one of those ridiculously pushy parents. Bearing in mind he has ASD, involving a weak working memory and, on occasions, a high level of rigidity in his thinking, I 'll be delighted if he does well enough at each stage of his education to proceed to the next. And enjoys his education along the way.

Theas18 Sun 26-Oct-14 09:13:55

For my academically able kids the twice years midysis / pupil review / target setting( with all the testing inbetween) is a bit of a game to be played. Certainly re NC levels they are on track/ ahead or even hitting end of KS already. They end up having pupil review meetings and, as there are no academic specific targets get " I will be more organised" or some such!

At primary progress seems to be measured in tiny steps. Sub levels are meaningless and even a whole level " regression" eg between year 2 and 3 assessment can be found just because year 2 are finding things to push grades up and year 3 applying strict criteria ( so they use that data to compare with their value added at year 6) .

I have no idea how non academic parents get their heads round all this I understand a bit if how statistics work and it it isn't simple!

ElephantsNeverForgive Sun 26-Oct-14 09:15:11

I hate them, I know exactly why schools are forced to use them, but having three levels on reports, minimum expected level, actual expected level and actual level is very confusing and pointless when expected levels seem to have been pulled out a hat

Or at least remain tied to dodgy first year CATs and Y6 SATs grades, that don't reflect performance 5 years later.

FlowersForAlgernon Sun 26-Oct-14 09:16:46

OxfordComma - that works for you because 'bottom third of set' has some meaning to you. You know roughly how he's doing in an objective sense.

If he was at a normal comp 'bottom third of B set' would tell you absolutely nothing in regards to if he was on track for a C, B or A at GSCSEs

Noble - yes there may be no diff between a 4a and a 4b, but with trust between teachers and parents there is meaning. It means 'your child is progressing as expected'

What would you prefer. A comment saying 'your child is progressing as expected'? Which is far more woolly and open to interpretation. Does that mean 'progressing as I expected given my expectations of him' or 'progressing as the govt expects him to'?

Equally 'your child is middle of the class' tells me nothing without telling me more about the class than you're allowed to. Or rather it never tells me anything useful because I care where he is in terms of external exams not in terms of his class mates.

At least with a 4a etc I have an objective view of what your subjective judgement is..........

For example if I'm not happy with DS getting a 4 in Y6 SATs I know that 60% of DC get a 4. So either my expectations are unrealistic, and he's not in the top third, or should have been in the top third and he's done badly.

These grades, in most subjects, are subjective. And there can be surprises when using them. But on the whole I think you need some kind of objective reporting system and this is the one we use now (or at least did until last year, and lots of schools still using this year)

FlowersForAlgernon Sun 26-Oct-14 09:18:48

Certainly some schools use levels and target levels better than others....

Coolas Sun 26-Oct-14 09:20:05

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

noblegiraffe Sun 26-Oct-14 09:29:49

Noble - yes there may be no diff between a 4a and a 4b, but with trust between teachers and parents there is meaning. It means 'your child is progressing as expected'

Not if they are being reported anything more often than (at a push) yearly. A PP mentioned levels being reported 5 times a year. With the 'expected' level of progress of 2/3 sublevels per year this will mean that the child who is progressing 'as expected' will receive at least 2-3 reports a year where it looks like they have made no progress as their sublevel will have to stay the same. As progress isn't linear, they could technically make no progress for 4 reports and then have a jump of 2-3 sublevels at once. They could even go backwards, but my school isn't allowed to report a sublevel lower than the previous. Then you get parents worried that their kid isn't making any progress, even though they are working well and doing well, because the system is bollocks.

I've just actually filled out a set of reviews for my Y9. I left most of them on the same sublevel and bumped up a couple who did really well on our end of term test but seemed to have a lower sublevel than the rest of the group. I could have justified bumping up more, I could have justified bumping up none of them. Next time I'm going to have to remember not to bump up the ones I have already bumped up otherwise they'll have nothing to do for the rest of the year.
And this means that for my class's parents who are getting their report, some will be pleased with their kid's progress, some will think they haven't progressed. In fact they have all worked pretty well this term and I was really pleased with their test results.

I hate having to do it. I have complained, but got no response.

ElephantsNeverForgive Sun 26-Oct-14 10:01:15

Thanks nobelgiraffe you give a very good description of why our three reports a year generate such confusing nonsense.

Some teachers do as you do, look back and try and make the system produce a logical picture.

Some of our teachers don't, and just take the last mark out their books even if it's for a topic the pupil did really well or really badly in.

This doesn't result in reports it's easy for parents to follow.

TeenAndTween Sun 26-Oct-14 11:24:09

Well, I like seeing the levels at secondary (which is lucky as that's all we get, no words at all).
If over a year the levels have gone up, I can see progress is apparently being made.
If over 2 years the level for a subject have not changed at all (as occurred for DD1 in one subject), it at least gives me a starting point to enquire with the teacher ("should I be concerned at apparent lack of progress?").

Orangeanddemons Sun 26-Oct-14 11:30:39

Dont know what your school are using as targets then. National curriculum levels don't exist any more for year 7 and 8

cricketballs Sun 26-Oct-14 14:23:22

orange - the vast majority of schools are sticking with the 'old level descriptors' despite them not existing anymore as teachers/parents/students understand them and there is no point re-inventing the wheel

rabbitstew Sun 26-Oct-14 14:26:07

My understanding is that apart from the current year's 2 and 6, national curriculum levels as everyone knows them no longer exist in primary schools, either. They are only continuing for this year in years 2 and 6 because those children are still being taught under the old national curriculum. All other children at primary level are now following the new national curriculum and from September next year all primary school aged children will be being taught under the new national curriculum, for which levels do not exist. Schools are supposed to be devising their own way of assessing children's progress, and political pressure seems to be against schools trying to continue with the current levelling system. It is my understanding that, at primary level at least, the likelihood is that a lot of schools will start reporting children as meeting expectations for a child in that year (ie government expectations...), exceeding them or not yet meeting them (or "emerging", as schools don't like saying children aren't meeting expectations...). Before we know it, the government will be saying more detail is required and there will be renewed talk of annual testing and ranking the nation's children according to their achievement in school.

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