'How can we inspire future teachers in a climate centred on preparing children for tests and exams?'

4th May 2016 at 08:02
Sats are as bad for teachers as they are for kids, particularly when it comes to inspiring the next generation of teachers, says one teacher trainer.

When I interview trainee teachers here at the University of Sussex and I ask them what it is that makes them want to go into the profession, they often tell me about that one teacher who inspired them. The geography teacher who made them duck under a table when they learnt about earthquakes, or the maths teacher who took them out into the playground to count butterflies. It’s these kind of teachers who make education rich for young people, who inspire them to learn and who make former pupils want to take up our wonderful profession.

But in a climate centred on preparing children for tests and exams, I wonder if we as a teaching profession will still be able to inspire these future teachers. Will we be able to provide the creative teaching that sticks in the mind of a young person throughout their education and makes them think:"She/he was a great teacher – I want to be just like them"? I hope so, but something needs to change.

Yesterday, thousands of parents took their six-year-old children out of primary schools in protest against the tough year two Sats, and many teachers came out in support of the move. Parents and teachers are finally standing together, and this is sending out a strong message to this government that enough is enough. 

The stories that I hear from teachers about six-year-old children coming into school crying because they are so worried about taking their Sats is deeply wrong. We need to ask ourselves: is this the best way to measure progress? If a six-year-old child scores a high grade, but in the process they become stressed, worried and not themselves, is that a price worth paying? The answer, of course, is no.

Sats are being used as a way for the government to measure how schools are performing – but they are not providing children with the rich education that they need. Most teachers agree that education, especially at the age of 6, should be about enjoying learning and exploring.

As a profession, we are told to look at countries like China to model our education system – a system that is very much focused on vigorous testing and examinations. However, schools in China are now asking for British teachers to fly out there to teach teachers in China how to be more creative in their teaching.

There are lots of good teachers in Britain who are trying to ensure the curriculum they teach is done is in a creative way, but they have a demanding job – especially this year with the short notice of changes to Sats.

There is no accurate way to measure performance. At the University of Sussex, we are currently creating a research team who are looking into the best ways to measure progress. In my role as head of teacher training, I see, year after year, teachers going into the education system who are very good at assessing children’s abilities. Teachers who look at children individually.

What is clear is that we cannot carry on putting unnecessary pressure on six-year-old children and constantly shifting the goal posts for teachers. We need a more sensitive design to measuring progress, one which looks at how children learn and takes into account the views of the thousands of teachers who want children to experience an exciting, inspiring learning environment. Children who may – one day – want to emulate their teaching heroes, and go into the profession themselves.

Jo Tregenza is head of teacher training at the University of Sussex. She tweets at @jotregenza

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