“Don’t teach to the test,” said the mentor at the start of the teacher training course.
Of course not, teaching is meant to provide a rounded education, it is meant to provide students with the knowledge and skills to fulfil their own potential and to become full and active members of society. There are lofty aspirations in school mottoes about the achievements and future lives of those who attend the schools.
Unfortunately, the government does not judge students or schools on the basis of roundedness, and certainly pays little regard to the “soft” skills students have achieved or to the aspirations or mottoes of the establishments they have attended. Whatever the protestations of Ofsted about the priorities of schools, students and schools are judged on the basis of their GCSE results.
A single examination is now expected to encompass all students: the GCSE 9-1. To teach a lively, happy group of students who have low academic ability in the knowledge that they will have to sit examinations in which they will be judged to be failures can be very discouraging. The overwhelming majority will get a grade, but only grades of 4 or above are considered to be pass grades (to achieve what is called a “strong pass” demands a grade 5).
A motivation grows to do the best you can for students, to try to ensure that they achieve as high a grade as possible. The course specification is printed off and examined closely. What knowledge is asked of those who will sit the examinations? What keywords need they learn? How will the examination questions be structured? A long way out from the exams, we begin doing test questions.
It’s not only the students who are judged – the school is judged on the basis of those GCSE grades. The Progress 8 score, the key figure on which a school is judged a success or failure, is calculated on the basis of comparing the results of their GCSE examinations with their expected grades that were calculated by using the SATS scores those students achieved in English and mathematics tests in their final year at primary school. If students hit their target, the Progress 8 score is zero; if they exceed it, it is positive; if they fall short, it is negative.
The state education system has become a matter of measurement, and what is being measured is often of little benefit either to the students, or to the society in which they will live their lives.
It is so throughly depressing that this is considered to be an education; people will say that the children are lucky to be able to attend school, and of course they are, but there is so much more to being educated than GCSE content and the ridiculous system that necessitates ‘teaching to the test’.
A good teacher will include soft skills everyday, but with their worth also being measured by the same system (and the Progess 8) they must conform. Our state school children are being cheated.
In today’s fractured society one would be suspicious of any teacher trying to impart a soft curriculum. The poor teacher is on a hiding to nothing. Every lesson would be scrutinised for bias – and there are so many options now.
Also the approved type of softness changes quickly. What is acceptable a few years ago is not now.
And teachers now have no experience of life outside of education.
Attend school up to age 18, off to uni for 3 or 4, then teacher training and then injected back into school, probably to remain in the same school for decades unless they can climb to headship and thus avoid teaching all together.
Sometimes “soft” teaching is only material around a topic, (I always enjoyed talking to students about Dionysius Exiguus), but there seems no place for it.
Like the church, promotion in teaching seems to mean being moved from the work for which you trained.