The dark side of the whiteboard - Aspiration? Nah it's perspiration

22nd October 2010 at 01:00

We have been caught red-handed again. Teaching to the test. Tsk, tsk. Only this time the ones nabbed in flagrante delicto are the state school teachers who have migrated into the private sector.

According to a recent study, those who cross over to the dark side have been brainwashed by years of delivering academic targets, so they really struggle with a more liberal curriculum. Their biggest problem has been extra-curricular activities: in particular those on the sporting field. Yelling "Play up, St Botolph's" while treading the divots after that first gruelling chukka is a skill that few of us have flagged up for continuing professional development. Nor have we attended the right twilight sessions on toasting muffins or tuck-box management. But in terms of our obsession with targets, the study does have a point.

Earlier this week, our assistant head responsible for removing students' make-up, nail varnish and hopes for academic success emailed us with a raft of revised key stage 4 predictions.

Basically, she took some Fischer Family Trust data - a useful resource that enables schools to generate their own academic predictions based on the progress made nationally by similar pupils in similar schools - multiplied it by two, pumped it full of steroids and emailed it out to all staff for their immediate attention. Where the data predicted an E, she jacked it up to a C. Where it suggested a D, she bulked it up to a B. The end result is that our pupils are now chasing hulking great whey-protein-guzzling-Schwarzenegger-style targets for GCSE English, despite the fact that they have yet to bench press their first metaphor.

I can't wait to tell my lovely Year 11s, who are still struggling to find a legitimate use for the comma, that they are expected to achieve A grades in their November exams. I'm sure they will be delighted.

At least, they might if they remain in the classroom long enough to hear the news. Currently, it's hard keeping track of them. They drift in and out of lessons, waving scribbled notes in the air or shouting the odds about some email that was sent yesterday by their head of year, but was deleted as it failed to contain the words "cake sale" in its subject box.

These kids are not much interested in their targets anyway. The lads are on their way to a life in engineering while the girls are planning on careers in tabards, caring for elderly women who smell of cheap perfume, boiled cabbages and despair.

All my colleagues agree that the new targets are ridiculous. They are not aspirational, they are risible. My class may have stood half a chance of gaining Cs, but by predicting them As we might as well stamp the word failure across their foreheads.

I hate our target-driven culture because with every exhortation to succeed comes a subliminal invitation to fail. I was lucky: I grew up in a world with no targets. My parents just wanted me to get a good job, have kids and live beyond 62. And the result? You can't see the word failure written on my face - because, thanks to my bastard husband, it is tattooed across my heart.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the north of England.

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