Nut briefing: target-setting

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This briefing document is to provide updated information and guidance about the cycle of setting and agreeing school targets for 2010 and beyond.
All quotes used in this briefing are taken from the DCSF document “Guidance for Local Authorities on Setting Education Performance Targets” unless otherwise stated. The document is available to download from the DCSF’s Standards Site

Statutory Requirements
All maintained schools in England, including maintained special schools, are required to set the following targets.

  • Key Stage 2: to increase the proportion of pupils achieving level 4 or above in English and in mathematics.

  • Key Stage 1 - 2: to improve the proportion of pupils progressing two National Curriculum levels in English and in mathematics.

  • Key Stage 4: to increase the proportion of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs or equivalent at grades A*-C, including English and mathematics.

Schools with year groups of ten or fewer pupils are required to set targets but do not have to publish them.

Following the Secretary of State’s announcement that there will be no National Curriculum tests at Key Stage 3 for 2009 onwards, the requirement for schools to set statutory targets for outcomes at Key Stage 3 has been removed. The DCSF has said on the above website that it wishes:

schools to continue to set targets for individual pupils in each year of secondary school that will enable them to make as much progress as possible. They also need to track and monitor their progress towards those targets. …If schools want to continue to set themselves whole school targets to improve outcomes and progression at the end of KS3 they can do so. But they will not have to report these to the LA and Ofsted will not ask to see these targets as part of any inspection.”

A new target, relating to pupil progress from Year 7 to Year 11, is expected to be introduced for 2011.
For the purposes of the progression targets the following conversion tables show how pupils will be judged to have made two levels of progress.

KS1 level

Required KS2 level to

meet progress target

Level 3

Level 5

Levels 2A,

2B, 2C

Level 4+

Level 1

Level 3+


Level 2+



KS3 level
Level 8

Level 7






Below level 2

Required KS4 level to

meet progress target*

A* (in maths)

A (A* in English)







Schools’ Roles and Responsibilities
Schools have responsibility for setting their own targets. The DCSF says “schools should review the effectiveness of their target-setting and pupil tracking systems as part of their self evaluation each year.”
Governing bodies are legally responsible for ensuring that targets are set and reported each year. The DCSF says that governing bodies should be involved in target-setting from an early stage, so that they can influence the process and fulfil their strategic role.
The DCSF has said that it encourages schools to make use of a wide range of data to support the target-setting process, including that provided by RAISEonline, National Strategies, Fischer Family Trust (FFT), the local authority and the school’s own pupil tracking data.
The School Improvement Partner (SIP) is expected by the DCSF to use such data to “discuss and agree the statutory attainment targets with the school, providing challenge where the targets are not appropriately ambitious and helping schools match targets with the interventions and strategies that individual pupils need to achieve”. Unless the cohort is significantly different in terms of prior attainment or numbers of children with SEN, the SIP will say to schools that they should not set targets below their previous performance.

Schools are expected to set targets for children from Year 1 onwards. The DCSF says “school targets should be informed by data which reveals the best possible progress that pupils can be expected to make” and that SIPs should help ensure that schools “are setting the highest possible expectations for pupil outcomes” (NUT’s emphasis). In addition, the DCSF expects that “wherever possible” pupils should make at least two National Curriculum levels’ progress in both English and mathematics.

The achievement of progress of two or more levels at Key Stage 2 (and at Key Stage 4 from 2011) can only be considered as aspirational. The National Strategies, for example, assess satisfactory progress as, on average, 0.5 of a level per year.
It appears that once again the DCSF is encouraging local authorities to put pressure on schools to set “challenging” targets, which many schools believe to be unrealistic. It is important to remember that local authorities have no statutory power to impose targets on individual schools.
Some NUT members have reported that they have been required to set targets for individuals or groups of pupils relating to National Curriculum sub-levels. The DCSF says, however, that “there is as yet no consistent method of breaking down NC levels to provide a valid, reliable sub-level as a test outcome. Schools can use contextual information using teacher assessed sub-levels to inform discussion of progression.”
NUT members who are concerned about the use of sub-levels in their school’s target-setting process should contact their regional office for advice.
The NUT’s current guidance for members on working time and duties addresses the issue of target-setting. For ease of reference, this guidance is reproduced below.

Excessive target-setting, including setting and reviewing targets in schools, is a problem for many members. As part of assessments of pupils’ learning, members will necessarily set objectives. This should be distinguished from the setting of targets for whole school purposes. The setting of targets, including benchmarking for such purposes, should not take place more frequently than once a year, unless teachers to whose classes the targets apply seek to change those targets.”

The document “Teachers’ Working Time and Duties – An NUT Guide” is available to download from the Union website at
Local Authorities’ Roles and Responsibilities
The DCSF says the role of local authorities is “to support and challenge their schools to set targets that are stretching but achievable and that bring together high aspirations for the progress all of their pupils can make, supported by teaching strategies and interventions to help get them there.”

Local authorities are required by the DCSF to review and moderate the targets set by their schools. Where the data indicates any issues, these should be discussed with schools. This could include guiding schools in reviewing their data and challenging them where appropriate, using conversion and comparative data.

The NUT is aware of cases where the local authority has put pressure on schools to accept targets for individual pupils or groups of pupils, which the school believes to be unrealistic.
Members should be advised to be extremely cautious about accepting pupil performance and progress targets. In particular, members should not accept very demanding or “aspirational” targets, even on a “working towards” basis, unless they have been provided with tangible assurances that they will not be penalised if the targets are not met.
NUT members who feel under pressure to accept unrealistic targets or who have been placed on capability proceedings or who have been denied pay progression as a direct result of failing to achieve pupil performance targets should seek advice from their regional office as soon as possible.

Increasingly, target-setting functions are undertaken on behalf of local authorities by School Improvement Partners (SIPs). The DCSF handbook for SIPs says that they must agree that the school’s targets are “appropriately ambitious” and challenge the school if he or she disagrees with the school. This information would be recorded in the SIP report on the school.

If local authorities or SIPs decide to challenge a school over the target it proposes to set or the analysis it has made, the DCSF says that the reasons for this challenge should be explained fully to both the school and governing body. Schools, however, take the final decision about the targets which they set.
The NUT believes that it is the head teacher, in consultation with the staff, who should set any targets for the school. Head teachers should not feel pressurised to set targets which, in their professional judgement, are unrealistic. Any head teacher NUT member who is concerned by this issue should seek advice from their regional office.
RAISEonline was launched nationally in 2006. It has replaced the Pupil Achievement Tracker (PAT) and Performance and Assessment Data (PANDA) by incorporating data from both of these sources.
RAISEonline indicative targets reports provide school level estimates which show what the school would need to achieve if they wanted to match the top 10 per cent; 25 per cent; 50 per cent; and 75 per cent of similar schools. The DCSF advises that schools which are currently in the top quartile for performance should use the top 10 per cent indicative targets reports when setting their own targets and schools in the bottom quartile should use those for the top 50 and 75 per cent of schools.
The DCSF expects schools to use RAISEonline to set “challenging” targets. Its target-setting tool uses conversion data to show the actual progress made by all pupils with similar prior attainment in schools with the best value added. The target-setting tool applies this conversion data to an individual school’s pupils to give the most likely target level for those pupils.

The tool is based on prior attainment rather than Contextual Value Added (CVA) data as the DCSF believes that this “can have the effect of lowering expectations for pupils in groups which underachieve nationally”. For schools which have a record of high performance, however, the DCSF advises that “CVA data is helpful in allowing them to compare their expectations and check that the targets represent the best ambition compared to the achievements of similar pupils with the same contextual background.”

Schools can take account of the particular circumstances of individual pupils by entering a “moderated” target for each pupil. The target-setting tool therefore generates the “best possible” target, rather than one based on the general past performance of pupils with similar characteristics.
The head teacher has the choice of whether or not to share this part of the process.
A standard report is generated by RAISEonline, which can be accessed by local authorities, SIPs and OFSTED inspectors as well as schools. This report shows an individual school’s likely attainment in terms of the statutory targets, based on the unmoderated “most likely levels” generated by the target-setting tool.
SIPs and local authorities have been advised by the DCSF to use the RAISEonline standard report to challenge schools whose targets show that they do not expect to improve performance for the relevant cohort by the “best possible” measure.
The introduction of RAISEonline, in particular its emphasis on prior attainment rather than CVA data, could have a significant impact on schools with large numbers of pupils in groups such as Black Caribbean boys, Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils, white working class boys and Gypsy Roma and Traveller pupils. The NUT believes that such schools should continue to use the full range of available data in order to reflect accurately the potential progress of pupils.
Fischer Family Trust
A number of local authorities use Fischer Family Trust (FFT) data to set or inform discussions about targets for schools.
FFT produces four different models of data which have been used for target-setting in both core and non-core subjects:
Model A: based upon pupil prior attainment, gender and age.
Model B: based upon pupil prior attainment, gender, age and school context.

Model C: based upon Model B but also taking into account improvement needed for national or locally negotiated local authority targets.

Model D: based upon Model B but then adjusted to be consistent with the top 25 per cent of schools (value-added).
This data is issued several times during the year. As the year progresses, projected figures become more challenging, because of rising pupil scores.
The FFT’s own guidance for schools cautions that “the accuracy of FFT estimates varies …. They are only “indicators” and should not be seen as rigid predictions or targets” as they are, for the most part, based upon prior attainment in core subjects and provide an estimate of what might happen if pupils make progress that is in line with that of similar pupils in previous years. The FFT research director was reported in “The Times Educational Supplement” (12/12/08) as saying that estimates of secondary performance, for example, had a 70 per cent accuracy rate.
The DCSF has advised that, where FFT estimates are available, schools “will need to be guided to understand how these are built up so that targets are not set in a mechanistic way”, including using the range of estimates FFT provides “to inform (but not determine) targets”.
In addition, the DCSF has advised that FFT model D estimates should normally be used by schools, as these will usually provide the highest level of challenge, whilst schools with high CVA “should be guided to look at he estimates generated by RAISEonline”.

It is important to remember that FFT analyses offer only estimates or “probabilities” of likely future pupil outcomes, not targets. The smaller the group, the wider the variation from this predicted figure might be. The NUT believes that it is essential that teachers are given a clear explanation for the rationale behind any targets generated by FFT data, including which FFT “model” has been used and that FFT data is not “fixed” but is based on probability.

The NUT believes that FFT estimates should not be adopted for performance management or pay progression purposes without any kind of analysis or checking. NUT members who are concerned about this practice in their school should contact their regional office for advice.

The NUT’s View
The NUT recognises that targets can be helpful to teaching and learning and the development and improvement of a school, provided that the targets are:

  • few in number;

  • based on a genuine audit of existing performance and current strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for development;

  • realistic in terms of each teacher’s overall workload;

  • supported by appropriate training and prioritisation of resources; and

  • used to contribute to diagnostic processes involved in self-evaluation and school improvement.

Accusations of having “low expectations” of particular pupils or groups of pupils are not helpful to teachers or schools. NUT members should be advised that target-setting should involve professional dialogue, based on all the available evidence and give due weighting to contextual factors as well as teachers’ own assessments of pupils. Crude and invalid interpretation of data should be challenged and rejected.

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