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SMART Targets – A how to guide to writing SMART Targets for children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

What are SMART targets?

SMART targets are targets that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound whilst also being personal to the child. They should be set as small steps towards the child or young person meeting their long term outcomes and be used as part of a graduated approach to supporting children and young people in co-production with parents and the child or young person.

It is important to ensure that targets are used when planning for children and young people and not aims.

An aim is a long term goal whereas a target is a statement of what the child can achieve within a given time. For example if the aim for Clive is to know the names of colours. The target might be for ‘Clive to point to a red wooden block when asked by his keyworker, when presented with 2 red wooden bricks and a yellow wooden brick (3/5 tries)’. xs

The SEND Code of Practice (DfE, 2015) states that: 9.66 An outcome can be defined as the benefit or difference made to an individual as a result of an intervention. It should be personal and not expressed from a service perspective; it should be something that those involved have control and influence over, and while it does not always have to be a formal or accredited, it should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound (SMART). When an outcome is focused on education or training, it will describe what the expected benefit will be to the individual as a result of the educational or training intervention provided. Outcomes are not a description of the service being provided – for example the provision of three hours of speech and language therapy is not an outcome. In this case, the outcome is what is intended that the speech and language therapy will help the individual to do that they cannot do now and when this will be achieved.

Take a look at these SMART targets

How to set SMART targets

Remember how to set a target by using  WHO, WHAT AND WHEN

  • WHO is the target for?This is literally the name of the pupil eg. Adam
  • WHAT is the desired outcome?This is what you want them to learn so Adam will recognise 3 of his triggers for anger
  • WHEN does the desired outcome need to be shown? This is when you want this desired outcome to show so it might be when Adam is asked by an adult. Adam will recognise 3 of his triggers for anger, when asked by an adult.

NB: You can swap things round a bit too so you could start with WHEN – when asked by an adult, Adam will recognise 3 of his triggers for anger.


As part of the planning process it is important to consider what specifically the child will be accomplishing by their target. The outcome should be broken down into a small ‘next step’ that is personal to the child. It is important that clear language is used when setting targets. They should describe exactly what the child will be able do to be successful.

These are some words that are often used in targets that are unclear and therefore not specific:

  • Identify
  • Understand
  • Listen
  • Know
  • Enjoy

As these words are not specific, they are open to interpretation and cannot be measured. For example, how would we know that a child has understood a concept or has enjoyed a story that has been read to them? Instead use words that are clear and specific such as:

  • Name
  • Point to
  •  Look towards
  • Reach towards
  • Construct
  • Crawl
  • Walk
  • Run
  • Catch
  • Find
  • Match
  • Read
  • Recall
  •  Retell
  • Give
  • Count
  • Label
  • Repeat


In order to show that children are making progress practitioners must identify that targets have been achieved. Therefore when setting a target there must be a measurable factor to clearly show during times of review whether or not the target has been successful. Often the level of success is stated by how many times the child responds successfully out the amount of times they have practised so the target may include a frequency measure to decide if the target has been successful during the review period. For example if the target is for Mae to catch a large ball from a distance of two metres the target might be changed to ‘Mae will catch a large ball 3 out of 5 times, thrown to her from a distance of 2 metres’.


It is important that targets are achievable and it is possible that the child will be able to reach the target by a given date. Considering this will help in deciding whether the next step is suitable within the given time or in fact a future aim.


Targets must be developmentally appropriate for the child and therefore a genuine next step for them.

Time bound

SMART targets are always bound to a date in which the target will reviewed to assess progress.

Key considerations when setting SMART targets

  • How many targets will be set?
  • Is the target one that can be ‘seen, heard, counted or measured’?
  • How often does the target activity need to be carried out?
  • What tools/materials/resources do you use to support you to develop these?
  • What progress do you hope to see as a result of the action taken?
  • How have you reflected the child’s voice?
  • How will you show the child they are successful? E.g. praise, reward, special activity
  • How will you record progress?
  •  When will the target be reviewed?

Examples of targets that are not SMART:

  • Joshua will make a choice.
  • Arlo will communicate when he wants more.
  • Kelly will know 2D shapes.
  • Marlin will respond to an adult.
  • Jacob will join in for a short activity.
  • Laura’s vocabulary will improve.
  • Tyreke will enjoy a story.

Examples of targets that are SMART:

  • Joshua will point to his choice of snack, when shown a choice of two snacks by his key worker in a distraction free environment (on 3 out of 5 times offered).
  • Arlo will request more by using the sign ‘more’, when his key worker blows bubbles to him during 1:1 time (on 2 out of 5 occasions).
  • Kelly will pick up a 2D square shape when asked by an adult, from a group of 2 2D triangle shapes and 1 2D square shape of the same colour (on 2 out of 5 occasions).
  • Marlin will turn her head towards her key worker, when her key worker says her name and when just Marlin and her keyworker are present (3/5 times).
  • Jacob will copy the action movement for ‘round and round’ for the action song ‘The Wheels on the Bus’, when a practitioner models the action and the action song is playing during 1:1 time (4 out of 5 times).
  • Laura will say ‘lion’ and ‘mouse’, when her key worker points to these characters in her favourite book ‘The Lion and the Mouse’ during 1:1 time (3/5 tries).
  • Tyreke will retell the ending of the story ‘The Music Maker’, when his keyworker has just read the story to him and his keyworker points to the pictures on the final two pages during 1:1 time (4/5 times).

When creating targets for children and young people with SEND it is important to remember that targets may need to broken down into very small steps.

Resources to help you write SMART Targets

SMART Targets for ELSA work – ELSA Support Emotional literacy (

SMART target setting | Teaching Resources (

Education, Health and Care Plans: Examples of good practice (

Set Realistic & Smart Goals for Your Child » Autism 360™