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Curriculum planning as setting targets

In 1992, school league tables were introduced in England to provide an 'improvement index' and to give parents the consumer information they needed to create a free market in school choice. In doing so, schools were forced to set themselves targets for achievement so that they might rank highly in the produced league tables.

It may well be useful for teachers, and even pupils themselves, to set targets. It is quite a different matter for the government to set targets in order to produce statistics. There were echoes of the nineteenth century situation, in which 'payment by results' for elementary school teachers led to a very rigid form of 'teaching to the test.' That children in such a system passed tests without being meaningfully educated had been noted in the 1890s and earlier. To some observers, the 1990s recreated that dynamic.

Targets can also be detrimental to the development of a curriculum because league tables are based only upon 'included' subjects. As a result, schools may favour these subjects at the expense of others. A recent example (2014) can be seen in the Department for Education review of agricultural and horticultural vocational courses in schools and colleges. The result is a possible closure of school farms, shifting the delivery towards classroom-based learning, rather than practical, on-the-job activities. Such a shift might further disadvantage these courses because many institutes don't include them in their league tables.