Magic moments have disappeared, experts believe

New teachers lack creativity and embrace government initiatives like a "security blanket", a union-funded study out this week has warned.

David Marley

New teachers lack creativity and embrace government initiatives like a "security blanket", a union-funded study out this week has warned.

Too many stick rigidly to the national strategies for maths and literacy, without the ability to adapt to children's needs, according to academics from Cambridge University.

"Schools used to love having new teachers come in because they were creative, but now they have bought into government policy and expect things off the shelf," said John MacBeath, one of the authors. "They know nothing about spontaneous moments."

Professor MacBeath and fellow author Maurice Galton said that teaching had been robbed of "magic moments" as teachers had to follow government initiatives and strive to meet targets.

Teachers are also under pressure from increased working hours and poorly behaved children, the five-year study, commissioned by the NUT, found. "What we saw while carrying out the study was a sea change in attitudes," said Professor Galton. "Where teachers were unhappy but resilient, they became compliant and did not believe they could change anything."

Primary teachers are now forced to deal with poor standards of behaviour more normally associated with secondary pupils, according to the report.

Teachers claimed pupils were reluctant to follow instructions and that "a minority could be extremely confrontational, use foul language and could even be physically aggressive," the report said.

New teachers blamed the deterioration of pupil behaviour on poor parenting, while longer serving teachers put it down to the pressures of the performance culture in schools, the academics said. Teachers also have to cope with aggressive parents who object to children being disciplined at school.

Elsewhere, the study found that primary teachers' workload had increased in the past five years from just over 54 hours a week to 56 hours, despite workforce reforms designed to cut the working week.

It also criticised the way that children with special educational needs have been integrated into mainstream classes.

Teaching assistants were too often given responsibility for SEN pupils, even though they had inadequate training, said Professor MacBeath.

Christine Blower, NUT general secretary, said that the report was a "wake up call" for ministers. "The Government cannot ignore the overwhelming evidence that over-prescription and rigid centralisation are robbing teachers of their creativity," she said.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said she did not accept the "negative picture painted by this report". "Research shows teachers feel their own professional status is starting to improve after decades of decline," she said.

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David Marley

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