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SMART targets - and how to write them

Recently, I interviewed Sarah Martin-Denham, author of The SENCO Handbook, to talk to us at ACE Network NE about the thorny problem of writing SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) targets. For any teacher and/or SENDCo out there, you'll know what those problems are: too vague, too wide in scope and rarely useful for either practitioner or child.

Over 300 people signed up and this clearly shows the need for a more co-ordinated and coherent approach to writing targets. Sarah's research explored the reach of Bloom's Taxonomy: (1) knowledge (2) comprehension (3) application (4) analysis (5) synthesis and (6) evaluation, moving from lower order thinking skills to higher order thinking skills to show progression and continuity in learning. She then tweaked the language to support the writing of SMART targets: (1) Remembering (2) Understanding (3) Applying (4) Analysing (5) Evaluating and (6) Creating.

What came out of the research was a focus on verbs - simply considering the verbs we can use to measure and observe the impact of an intervention. I know, right? So easy! Sarah's development work thus gives us a way to determine appropriate targets which are, wait for it, actually SMART! For instance, if we think about the Remembering strand, we could use verbs such as '...cite, copy, describe...' because in doing that, the child can demonstrate the range of their knowledge. If we look at the Understanding strand, verbs like '...explain, express, extract...' allow us to gauge what the child comprehends. The final strand of lower order thinking skills is Applying - so we can use verbs like '...paint, practice, re-enact...' to measure and observe how well the child can apply their learning.

Moving to the higher order thinking skills strands, we can use verbs like '...analyse, appraise, calculate...' to assess how well the child can analyse data and learning; in Evaluating, verbs such as '...measure, organise, prioritise...' enable the child to learn the skill of critical evaluation; and finally, in Creating, verbs like '...adapt, animate, arrange...' help the child to demonstrate their learning through a range of creative activities which can be measured and observed.

Targets should be written for a child at their appropriate developmental age, and should be written in partnership with the child, teacher and carer - the list of verbs gives them choice about the language and interventions detailed termly in the SEND paperwork.

Feedback about the materials shared by Sarah has been very positive, with attendees of the webinars asking us what other training we might be offering in the future...and this is now over to you. What would you like to see covered by Sarah and I in future training opportunities? Let us know by emailing me at

Finally, we have decided here at HQ that we need a regular newsletter, probably monthly. If you would like to subscribe to news of recent developments around SEND, trauma and emotional intelligence, and to find out more about further training and CPD opportunities, drop me an email at

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