Management’s obsessive drive for ‘outstanding’ will prevent our next generation from fulfilling their personal goals and dreams
Being forced to teach everyone the same way makes staff and students feel like robots, says Secret Teacher. Photograph: Alamy
As a student at school, I lacked confidence, whenever I handed a piece of work to my teacher, I would become very nervous and say, “it’s rubbish, sir”. As an adult, years later, I can vividly recall the day that my teacher took me to one side at the end of the lesson and told me that I had no confidence in myself. It was a light-bulb moment for me and after that I saw myself more clearly and a seed of self-belief took root where there had been only darkness. As a teacher, I vowed that I would work hard to nurture my students, to make each and every student feel valued and for them to know that they have a voice, and a place in the world. However the last two years have made me feel like that insecure 14-year-old again: I have lost my confidence because of the overly-rigid current education system. We are constantly being told we are not good enough and that we are not doing enough: enough intervention, enough rigorous marking, enough sustained and rapid progress. What excited me the most about becoming a teacher was discovering the hidden talents and sparks of genius in my students. However, it breaks my heart to say this, but I feel that I no longer have time, nor am I encouraged to make these discoveries. We are so caught up with data and so many progress checks that we don’t give our students the time to shine. I wonder what would happen if the greats of the world like Einstein, Gaudi, Picasso and Martin Luther King were to attend school in 2013, would they be able to cultivate their talents and thrive? The focus on getting an outstanding Ofsted report has diverted our energies from educating and nurturing young people. Yes, schools need to be monitored and yes, we teachers need to do our jobs well. But I do not feel that we can in a system that is primarily data driven. Getting an outstanding Ofsted report does not mean that students will leave school being outstanding citizens of the world. Grades and data don’t do that, integrity, and humanity do. Students tell me that they feel school doesn’t care about them. Many have said there is too much pressure in maths and science, but their skills and passions lie in other areas. I do worry that management’s obsessive drive for ‘outstanding’ will prevent our next generation from fulfilling their personal goals and dreams. Einstein in the class of 2013 would be a golden boy sitting his maths and physics early and then taking A-levels in year 11, he would be a wild-haired value-added wonder until August when the school realised he’d screwed up the EBacc stats by failing French. Teachers and students are being made to feel like robots, we all have to teach in the same way and students all have to learn in the same ways, at predetermined rates. This takes the personal judgements out of management monitoring and makes it easier for an SLT to demonstrate that the school has a vision. Except, of course, the vision is no longer a joyous shot at how things ought to be, it is merely a corporate slogan. I keep hearing, “we are a business”. No we are not. We are educators. We have a duty of care for our students and heads have a duty of care for their staff. Come to think of it, this oppressive world of weasel-words where ‘student voice’ and ‘progress’ are promised but not delivered is just the sort of environment that might inspire another Martin Luther King. He knew authoritarian suppression when he saw it. Certainly I feel my students are beginning to see the sadness behind my smile, and some of the strains we teachers are under. Am I a role model for young people, an advocate for education, an attractive example of what life-long learning might make them? I have a dream.