The introduction of targets by Tony Blair was, I believe an insult to the intelligence of the nation. We all have targets, some are very simple like mowing the lawn, which we allow ourselves to put off if we have a good enough excuse. In business, five-year rolling plans and some other targets have been in vogue since the dawn of time, and we knew how to manage them. Even our domestic budget is a form of target, but when if ever are we to be rid of those put up by the government? Brown is re-tracking in a number of areas, let us hope he sees the errors in this ploy. This type is pernicious, ill conceived and a hammer to crack a nut. If reputation, the post itself, pay, or any other serious consideration is at stake, the temptation to find a way to appear to meet the target set, be it legal or contrived, will be irresistible. There is a serious tendency today for people to believe dogma and act on it without testing its validity.
The phrase ‘Lies, damn lies and statistics’ really applies to targets. They are set through mathematical analysis, based on assumptions arrived at either by sampling; reference to records, which may or may not be accurate and representative of the whole, or inspired guesswork. To be applied Nationally they take little or no account of human behavioural variations, changes in geographical, ethnic, fiscal and other local influences, and above all unexpected circumstances, such as staff illness, lack of funding, even extraneous problems such as power cuts and weather.
Hence, if targets are to be met and local circumstances make it virtually impossible, then one could and probably does change some of the factors to arrive at an amenable figure. If it is education and the results are poor, try changing the syllabus so the students have easier subjects and the targets are met. In hospitals change the routine so the through-put of patients is increased, therefore the average waiting times are reduced, even if the fewer, more urgent and difficult cases are further delayed.
Targets, unlike people, have no ability to reason and no compassion, they are merely a goad to justify Government claims of doing better, when few, from their own experience agree. Targets can induce abuse and dishonesty, where none previously existed. Targets are a form of rate fixing – a price for a product, based upon time. When rate fixing was prevalent In engineering, a man was paid a rate for producing a product in an agreed time, based on a Rate Fixer’s assessment having actually watched the man work. The man under scrutiny was very particular to cut no corners. Once the rate had been agreed the man upped productivity to get a comfortable wage and set aside enough of the product to slope off to a Wednesday match without being missed.
Targets in learning are counter productive because the subjects most needed by the country, the Sciences, are being under subscribed because it is more difficult to obtain suitable grades. Yet once the young people have these alternative qualifications, the jobs aren’t there.
Instead of the civil servants, or even politicians, making the decisions, let the professionals based upon experience, local conditions and their own expertise, run things, rather than have blanket targets which seem to cost a bomb, increase staffing and paperwork for little or no improvement. If the professional is at fault, the responsibility is his, not the whole team. The real decrease in educational standards over the last 10 years, as reported by a renowned authority, instead of the figures conjured by the government, seem to bear out the fact that targets don’t work