This post was written by Jon Tait @TeamTait.
It’s that time of year when traditionally the heat really gets turned up on year 11’s in schools across the country. With the pressure on schools to succeed more than ever due to increased government floor targets, exam boards shifting grade boundaries and the threat of a looming Ofsted, our children are beginning to find this period more stressful than ever. What used to once be a time that not so long ago lead up to ‘study leave’ has now been replaced with students been taken out of ‘less important’ lessons, extra classes after school, weekend booster sessions and intensive Easter holiday programmes. Add in the fact that one bad set of results in an Ofsted year could spell the end of a headteacher’s job and possibly career, and you’ve got a pressure cooker situation that our young people are now finding themselves in.
I’m not for one second suggesting that we can take our foot off the pedal and go back to the days where students chose what to do with their ‘study leave’ (I remember sunbathing in the back garden for a few weeks in the early 1990’s), because under the current accountability and league table landscape you could be possibly mistaken for tying the rope around your own neck. However, one of the most interesting factors in all of this is that we feel we have to intervene with our students because they have not reached the target grades that we had hoped with the teaching that we have provided. So what do most schools do? Schools usually do more of the same (that presumably hasn’t worked up to this point) in the hope that it will now suddenly work because they’re at the business end of their educational experience with us. The pressure is cranked up on students further to start to retain the knowledge that we are feeding them or for them to hopefully put in practice on paper, the theory that has been their stumbling block for far too long.
But at what cost is all this to our students? Only this week has there been a report from the Association of College and School Leaders to highlight a significant rise in the number of students in our schools facing anxiety and stress. Can all this extra work, pressure and stress be good for our young people that have barely come out of the other side of puberty? And is it wise to be removing so much of their free time at weekends, evenings and holidays when this is the time that they need to be de-stressing, relaxing and replenishing their energy levels so that they are able to function at their very best in our classrooms and examination halls?
For schools all over the country, target levels being reached by students are now simply not enough and we have to push the students further and further, with the mantra that there’s always more that can be done. It sometimes feels like a competition between schools to see who can put on the most extra intervention or study support for their students. But if we take a step back, what does that say about the regular teaching that has been going on in our classrooms up and down the country every day for the last 5 years? And what does that say to the parents of those students about the educational provision that has been provided for their children over this time?
I also think we’ve started to create a climate with some of our students that they don’t have to work at their very best every lesson because ultimately, they know that they can be removed from PE, Drama, Music, Art etc. to do the work that they have not previously completed. They get the sense that they will always be given extra time and resources to get themselves up to the desired standard because we can’t afford for them not to. Long gone are the days when teachers can let students fail if they weren’t prepared to put in the required time and effort, and this has certainly filtered down to the students. Just think about the amount of times that deadlines are extended to allow students to hand in their work rather than them failing a certain aspect of the course. What is this teaching them about deadlines in the real world?
So what would happen if the government banned extra intervention classes and that the only provision that we could give students would be in the shape of the timetabled lessons that they received every week? Would this create a climate where every teacher knew that every minute with their students was so precious that it raised the standards in our classrooms further? Would it also reinforce to our students how important it was to be attending school and being in class on time every day, working hard in every lesson that they are studying?
And if we are still looking for a way to truly judge the quality of teaching in our schools across the country, without the manipulation of statistics, teaching to the test, Ofsted etc, etc, would this allow schools to be held account for, and judged on, the quality of teaching in their classrooms every day and not to be judged on how much extra they do for their students in order for them to pass a series of examinations. Would this be a fairer and more accurate picture of the quality of teaching in schools, if we are judging schools, subjects, teachers etc. on the same method, based on a set amount of learning hours that each subject up and down the country would require?