Out for the count

11th November 2011 at 00:00

There's a TV advert that's getting on my nerves. It's the one that asks: "Isn't it disappointing when you stop noticing your plug-in?" No. It's disappointing when the dog shits on the floor, or I'm hit with double cover last thing on Friday, or when the Year 11 lad I taught last year gets kicked out of his parents' house and ends up living rough. Now that's really disappointing.

But if there are people out there who feel badly done to because they can't smell the floral top notes of their air-fresheners, then it's time humanity chucked in the towel and we gave the cockroaches a chance.

It's not just this advert that fills me with a sense of frustration. Over the past few months I have become increasingly disturbed at the sight of David Cameron's pasty features looming out from the papers - why ever did we put our trust in a prime minister who looks like a cross between an avuncular Maris Piper and the man from the Pru?

Even more disturbing than our leader's Spud-u-Like face is education's latest obsession with "progression". The world is in economic meltdown and teachers down here are joining the bloody fray, armed with laminated level descriptors, colour-coded flight plans and a warm batch of assessment grids. It's hardly: "Cry God, for Harry, England and St George".

If ever there was a time to inspire kids, it's now. Let's face it, if we can't fill them full of hope in the classroom, where else will they find the will and determination to survive? When they leave us, they will have to borrow a crippling pound;27k to service university fees in England or go it alone in a hostile and unreliable jobs market; a long shot in the north of the country, where 11 per cent of adults are registered unemployed. And supposing a few of them finally manage to scrabble on to the bottom rung of a career ladder; they'll end up losing half their salary in taxes to keep the greying population supplied with their RDA of warfarin, incontinence pads, and egg custard tarts. No wonder sixth formers spend most of their time pissed.

But instead of firing up their spirits to prepare them for life's battles, what are my colleagues and I asked to do? Dampen any enthusiasm students had for our subject by delivering gridlocked lessons engineered to "benchmark previous attainment". Did management think we were hiding the kids' successes in the first place?

Nowadays, progression needs to be made dramatically overt, so the principal has demanded a detailed description of what it might look like across each subject area. I suspect he's secretly hoping for a range of exemplary lessons, showing clear evidence of attainment and featuring plenaries in which tousled-headed, flush-cheeked young men stand astride their desks, yelling: "Captain, my Captain" while brandishing their latest peer-marked assessments.

Sadly, that's not likely to happen in English. Given the subjective nature of what we teach, those few lessons where we can irrefutably demonstrate student progression are often predictably dull, driven by narrow literacy objectives and a concomitant whole-class chorus of: "Miss, how long is there left?"

If you believe in Einstein's dictum that "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts", then maybe it's time we left the measuring to maths.

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

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