Are schools setting our children up to fail?

The Lowdown on Goal Setting and Set Targets

Here at Reset Parenting we have been pondering this question all week having found out recently that it would appear that the A Level target grades or the set targets for students are nothing more than hot air in many instances!  That is to say that the set targets (or the implicit goals) that teachers are saying your child can achieve may not actually reflect the statistical predictions based on empirical formulae that can be calculated to give realistic and achievable options particularly when it comes to applying for university, which in the UK is through UCAS.  To this end, where set target grades are above an achievable level, the student in question is automatically set up to fail and the ramifications of this may well reach much further than a mere exam result but affect their chances of getting into the universities that they have applied for and thus hinder their next steps.  Essentially the value of goal setting and targets is then depreciated in young minds and as such inherent pathways may be cemented that are unhelpful and even destructive in the recipient student.

The root of this problem is down to a critical understanding of the way that exam boards derive their final grades which ultimately is not down to an average of grades but a statistical breakdown of standardized figures calculated from raw marks (marks out of a set figure given per paper, for example 60/80 is the equivalent to 60 raw marks), with the final cumulative total then being classified into a grade.  So for instance a student achieving a C at AS Level may not reasonably be able to up this to a B or an A at A Level due to the mark scheme involved as their raw marks may be too low to allow such a magnanimous improvement!  This is all down to a system which is used called Uniformed Marking Schemes (UMS) which standardize the marks from each unit exam taken.  Across the A Level field these vary according to the weighting of each exam paper sat.

For example, if a student were sitting English Literature with the AQA at A Level this consists of 4 units totalling 400 UMS.  Two units account for 240 raw marks and the other two (which consists of coursework) amounts to 160.  These individual units are then broken down again taking into account AS and A2 marks.  So a grade C at English AS Level may only equate to 121 UMS.  This then means that the student in questions then needs to attain approximately 120 UMS to achieve an overall C at A Level.  To this end that means they need to perform equally as well at A2 as at AS which is a reasonable expectation by all accounts.  However, to achieve a B they actually need to gain 159 UMS which is the equivalent to mid B (a considerable improvement on the low C at AS).  The question, however, is how realistic this is based on their previous performance.  Due to standardisation, a high B even a low A in the coursework unit at A2 will not raise the board sufficiently high enough to make a B a reasonable set target grade!  The student is then set up to fail if anything higher than a C is predicted and that accounts for UCAS predictions as well!

It is therefore essential that teachers and schools appropriately set target grades based on the statistics with an eye on previous performance.  Without these, the question needs to be asked as to what purpose otherwise do these set targets and goals serve.

Set targets ostensibly provide a platform of expectation.  They can be used in a positive way to encourage, nurture and raise the ball game but critically where they are constantly set too high, they can be detrimental to continued improvement.  Consider if you were putting enough petrol in your car anticipating that it would run for 500 miles on this fuel.  Your target for the car’s performance is 500 miles.  If this you have overestimated your mileage then you will run out of fuel and breakdown.  In real terms this is the same for the targets and goals that are set for our children.  If they are told that their set target grade is an A yet their best effort to date has been a C, they are very unlikely to achieve the A!  Constantly missing that target will cause them to either feel they have failed, or worse still, give up with the attitude of “what’s the point”!!

When target and goal setting, they must therefore, first and foremost, be realistic.  It is the teacher’s job to ascertain the facts (in the case identified above use the statistics available) and then discuss that with the student concerned.  If the student has unrealistic expectations of themselves, the teacher MUST then consider their wellbeing and take the time to counsel the student to positively accept their potential and be happy with it taking the time to explain the facts.  There is much more to be achieved by striving for a target that might still stretch the student a bit but is definitely within reach!

And the outcome of this – well isn’t it obvious?  The student will be encouraged to maximise on their best efforts knowing that they can trust the teacher to help them achieve this because the end line is always in sight.  Without this mentality, honesty and acumen the end sight will always remain a pipe dream!

How to set goals

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