Exam pressures are more than just small beer

If I'm more relaxed in school this September, it's because last year I had the class from hell. Was I glad to see the back of that lot - or would have been, had the biggest pain of all not loitered for 10 minutes when he should have been on his way to making someone else's life a misery.

"What is it, Nick?" He thrust a carrier at me. "Bottles of beerI for you."

Like many primary schools in deprived areas, ours has more than its fair share of children with behavioural and learning difficulties. At the same time, we are faced with the annual task of securing enough level 4s to keep the inspectors at bay. A culture of anti-school behaviour doesn't help. Which brings me to Nick and his bottles of beer.

Nick thought school was crap. I should know - he told me often enough. That is why he frequently refused to work, made supply teachers' lives hell, drove lunchtime supervisors to seek alternative employment and, on one notable occasion, called me a "stupid little prick". Something had to be done. Excluding him periodically would allow the others to be more included, but it was not a long-term solution. And anyway, he was potential level 5.

Fortunately, we have a part-time music teacher who, by putting in considerably more than a full-time amount of work, has, over the past 10 years, helped our school to gain a national reputation for creative music performances. In the past two years, we have begun to dramatise and extend these into full musicals and have performed them at Sheffield's Crucible Studio as part of its children's festival. It turned out that Nick was good at drama - and not just at turning it into a crisis - and he landed himself a starring role, whereupon a transformation took place.

Of course, he had his moments (after all, he had a reputation to keep up). But he began to work hard, behave responsibly and to treat teachers in a manner that was disconcertingly polite. It is no accident that Nick's behaviour improved during the last half term. In fact, it is almost entirely to do with key stage 2 tests being over and the pressure to slog giving way to the chance to engage in more fulfilling activities. The battery farming of primary children, force-fed on a basic diet of English, maths and science that begins in September and grinds relentlessly on until tests in May, is increasingly a fact of life in schools. So, is it any wonder that we have more behaviour problems than you can throw a tantrum at? And doesn't this, in turn, make high standards even more difficult to achieve?

Of course, this is not the fault of the national curriculum - nor of the excellent, if initially over-prescriptive, maths and literacy strategies. Even the testing regime, which makes our children the most tested on the planet, cannot be held responsible. No, the real culprit is a political obsession with competition. It is league tables and so-called comparisons of performance that make schools such as ours exposed, like rabbits caught in the spotlight of official scrutiny, frenzied in their desperation to maintain standards.

What with the consequent effects on our classrooms and the way we deal with children - as potential national curriculum levels rather than as human beings - is it surprising that there has been a rise in anti-school behaviour?

Oh well, I think I'll have one of Nick's beers now. Ah, Imight have known - Merrimans Old Fart.

Steve Eddison The name of the pupil has been changed. Steve Eddison is a Year 6 teacher and senior manager at Longley primary school, Sheffield.

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