French fantasies and key skill tests

13th June 2003 at 01:00
The Government is showing lack of faith in trainees, says Amy Gibson

icture this: she's sitting before a tidy desk, the computer is switched on with Word, Excel and PowerPoint running; the printer is not only connected to the computer, but also has paper in it.

Tapping numbers into the spreadsheet, she quickly works out the finances for the forthcoming visit to Paris, then clicks into PowerPoint, transferring the figures to the presentation which is needed that afternoon.

A normal day for a PA at the office? No, this is modern-day teacher, costing a forthcoming school trip to Paris, then preparing a presentation to be given to the rest of the staff at the weekly staff meeting.

The next job will be to send a few emails to other coach companies for a price check before moving on to searching the web to find out possible sponsors for the school sports day.

Or so the Government would have trainee teachers believe, as we sit our excruciatingly tedious "skills tests" in numeracy, literacy and information and communications technology. Despite the fact that to be admitted to train to teach in the UK, applicants must have at least grade C in maths and English GCSEs, these key skills tests must be passed before qualified teacher status is awarded.

At best the tests are simply absurd. You would only have to spend a day in a school to realise that the idea of a teacher having enough time to sit at a computer costing a school trip, before preparing a PowerPoint presentation, is fairly comical.

And anyone working in education outreach programmes will tell you how hard it is to contact teachers - email is suddenly less convenient when the person you want to reach does not spend most of his or her day sitting at a desk in an office. This is before I even mention the fact that ICT equipment in staffrooms rarely works as efficiently as it does in an office.

Perhaps the Government should sort out funding for education so that schools can afford to run technology effectively before it takes on the expense of ensuring that all trainee teachers take and pass these tests.

More worrying than this imaginary world of teaching is the very existence of these tests, which belie the Government's own faith in the exam hothouse which is UK education today.

It is not just ironic that adults whose own school days have passed are made to sit exams reminiscent of primary spelling and times-tables tests; it is also an insult to the quality of those of us who are training to teach.

Does the Government have so little faith in our abilities that it feels it necessary to check we would spell "achieve" correctly in a school report? What an introduction to the world of teaching.

Even as we are faced with teaching pupils a national curriculum which is even more test-driven than the education we ourselves underwent, we are made to feel our own exam results are meaningless.

The existence of these key skills tests seem to be just one more example of the Government's attitude to education in this country.

By training to teach, I looked forward to entering a profession in which I felt my skills and judgment would be valued. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that this is not the case.

For while claiming in its advertising that "those who can, teach", by heaping tests and targets on pupils and teachers alike, the Government reveals that it actually has very little faith that those in the profession are up to the job.

Amy Gibson is a postgraduate certificate in education student at the Institute of Education, London

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