Teachers and school leaders value target setting and largely feel it benefits their students, but would still like to see greater streamlining of processes to reduce the workload burden it imposes. Those are among the findings of research into teacher workload and target setting commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE). The research, carried out by CooperGibson Research, was commissioned in response to issues raised in the DfE’s Making Data Work report, which was published in 2018 and found there was little evidence available on the impact on students and staff of setting attainment targets. The latest research, which has now been published in a report Exploring the relationship between teacher workload and target setting, consisted of qualitative semi-structured telephone interviews with 60 school staff, split evenly between teachers, middle leaders and senior leaders. The staff were working in a mix of primary and secondary schools, both local authority (LA) maintained and academies. The interviews explores the impact of target setting on teacher workload, the roles and responsibilities of different school staff and the perceived value of targets.

The researchers found that most school staff valued the target setting process, and identified benefits to having targets. Among the benefits identified were identifying pupils who were not making sufficient progress, enabling pupils to know what they were aiming for and how to get there, ensuring additional support needs were identified and implemented effectively, and informing planning for future lessons. However some participants expressed reservations about aspects of target setting, for example some senior leaders were concerned that, unless used carefully, targets could place undue pressure on pupils or hamper teacher creativity. There were also concerns about pupils being ‘prejudged’ by targets, leading to inappropriately low expectations. A small number of senior leaders in primary schools felt that targets too often took insufficient account of the local context, focusing instead on national benchmarking.

In relation to workload and the impact of target setting on teacher wellbeing, most participants felt the time they spent on activities related to target setting was worthwhile. In general the most time consuming elements for staff were not the target setting itself, but related activities to monitor progress against targets, such as analysing pupil data and meetings with colleagues to discuss target setting. Where staff felt activities were not a worthwhile use of time, common complaints focused on aspects such as having to enter the same data multiple times into different systems, having to present the same data in different formats to different audiences, and specific IT programs not being user friendly. Some respondents spoke about the pressures felt by staff when performance management processes were linked to achieving targets. Staff in academies mentioned the potentially detrimental impact of target setting on staff wellbeing more often than those in LA maintained schools, by a ratio of 3 to 1.

However, the researchers found that many school leaders had taken time to review and improve practice related to target setting. Leaders reported actions such as reducing the number of formal assessments and ‘data drops’ taking place each academic year, and reducing data input duplication. Although half of teachers, mainly those in primary schools, said they had not seen any good practice being actioned in relation to target setting. Participants also provided a range of suggestions as to how practices could be streamlined in future. As well as some of the measures mentioned above, these included the adoption of centralised systems, more and better training on relevant IT packages, and ensuring sufficient staff time was allocated in timetables for target setting and review.

Full report: https://tinyurl.com/yy4957n7

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