The organisers of the Catholic network of schools in Flanders are to take legal action over the government’s new set of targets announced this week.
The targets, known as end-terms, set out the learning outcomes the government wants to see. The latest set apply to students in the second and third grade of secondary school – the third to sixth year. Targets for the first grade were established last year.
The plan is to introduce the new targets from September this year, when the new school year starts.
Learning outcomes determine what a secondary school pupil must know and be able to do by the end of a school year or grade. They set out a number of minimum objectives of knowledge, insights, skills and attitudes that the students must achieve. In practice in Flanders, they are laid out according to grade.
From the second grade, the targets differ according to the direction the student intends to take later: higher education, professional education or a mix of both. Those replace the old system of academic, professional, technical or artistic streams, which tended to be exclusive of each other with little possibility of mixing.
They are also intended to update the old targets, which date back to the mid-1990s and were considered out of date with today’s jobs market.
The targets are also intended to be more ambitious, whichever stream a student sits in. That includes more attention to STEM subjects, digital and financial skills, entrepreneurship and civics.
An example is given by Filip Moons, of the Flemish Association of Mathematics Teachers. “We are inundated with data, for example in the media, and we believe that dealing with it correctly is important for everyone, including students in vocational education. So that, for example, they understand that a causal relationship is not the same as a correlation.”
More attention will also be paid to logical thinking, something that is barely discussed now, he said.
The end-terms have been welcomed by the non-affiliated GO! network of community schools, which represents most schools in the region.
“It took a lot of time to get them approved, but we are happy that there is now clarity and that we can continue preparing for the next school year,” Raymonda Verdyck, managing director of GO!, told the VRT.
But according to Lieven Boeve, the director of the Catholic network, the targets are unfeasible. There are simply too many of them, he said, and they are too detailed. They leave no room for a school’s own pedagogical programme.
He complains that education providers themselves were not sufficiently involved in the process to set out the new targets.
The network has now decided to challenge the new targets before the Constitutional Court.
Announcing the decision, Boeve said, “There are too many attainment targets and too little teaching time to acquire them thoroughly. We cannot offer quality like this. Pupils will learn something about everything, but nothing more thoroughly. Education is like the high jump. It is not because you set the bar higher that more people spontaneously get over it. This is only possible if there is sufficient practice time and good guidance is provided,”, he said.
Meanwhile Monsignor Johan Bonny, bishop of Antwerp and president of the Catholic schools network, said: “The constitutional freedom of education guarantees school boards the space to design their own pedagogical project. The attainment targets occupy the entire teaching period, so that pupils no longer receive a broad education, teachers will mainly tick off lists, and schools see their unique pedagogical project supplanted.”