Target-setting is a government strategy for appearing to solve a problem without actually having to do anything. Unfortunately it does require other people to do things, and can have damaging effects.
Here are some of the objections to the current wave of school target-setting.
• It implies that everyone should have the same aims.
• It undermines teachers by suggesting that they have no commitment to their calling and do not understand what it requires.
• By concentrating on those elements that can be statistically measured, it distracts from the elements that really matter.
• It overrides any child’s individual interests or ambitions.
• It encourages dishonest manipulation of statistics.
• It shows that government ministers are arrogant enough to believe that they are the only people who know what should be taught and how it should be taught.
• It ignores the discovery made by Doctors Williams and Pearce at the Peckham health centre in the 1930s, that “individuals, from infants to old people, resent or fail to show any interest in anything initially presented to them through discipline, regulation or instruction which is another aspect of authority.”
In his book, Beyond Learning: Democratic Education for a Human Future, Professor Gert J. J. Biesta, argues with considerable force and complexity against the view, apparently held by the government, that the most important aim of education is to impart knowledge and skills in order to prepare young people to fit into modern society. What educators must do instead, says Biesta, is co-operate in the individual development of each child, helping them “to come into the world as unique, singular beings.”
This is seems to me to be a worthwhile target. None of the above objections apply to it. The only problem, from a government point of view, would be how on earth to measure success.