Alex Massie

The problem with targets

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Merit pay, eh? Normally I'm all for hopping on the teachers-unions-are-spawn-of-the-devil bandwagon. But they're right to think that performance-related pay, or at least any form of it likely to be introduced by bureaucrats, is likely to be a disaster for exactly the same reason as most government-mandated teaching requirements offer exactly the wrong incentives. Neill Harvey-Smith explains:

If one in twelve children sitting their GCSEs in 2010 raise what would have been a D to a C grade, in just one subject, and everything else stays the same, then the government will have met its supposedly tough new target for secondary education.

Would your kid have got 5 A to Cs anyway? They don't need extra help. They are doing well enough already.

Will your kid get way below 5 A to Cs? Then teachers would be stupid to try and raise their marks a long way; there are more promising students to focus on, just below the threshold.

Making this the measure of success means - forgive me - focusing on the few not the many. It means concentrating the energies of the secondary education system on the 45th - 53rd percentiles of the student population whose test results currently fall just below official acceptability. It creates a ridiculous distortion of educational priorities. It is another top-down target of the sort whose demise keeps being headlined but never actually cease.

Better by far, methinks, to just free schools from the dead hand of political oversight. Pay should be something in the gift of head-teachers free to hire and fire teachers as they see fit (as, of course, is already the case, in the private sector) as well as offer bonuses and determine pay scales as they see fit. A nationwide one-size-fits-all approach is not likely to be optimal.

Vouchers or complete privatisation would be good too. But that's a battle for another day.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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