Teachers are lions led by donkeys

11th February 2000 at 00:00
HAVE you read the unbelievably awful national literacy strategy? In thousands of words of this totalitarian twaddle the word "creativity" does not appear once. (A punishment for these bureaucrats should be forcing them to teach the tosh in the classroom).

You can't measure creativity. And in today's repressive educational climate that means you can't teach it.

But you CAN suppress it! And Blunkett's bureaucrats are experts at eliminating creativity in the English classroom, and, I suspect, in every other subject too.

How does the literacy strategy suppress creativity? Well, it is so packed with Queen Victoria's ideas on grammar and other "measurable" skills that the teacher is left no time to develop creative writing.

Teachers are the trench-soldiers of the public service - they are sent into battle against the forces of ignorance weighed down by the burden of curriculum demands. They are truly lions led by donkeys. Teachers are forced into using ready-made lessons, just to cope.

Where do they get them? From specially-written NLS textbooks. Have you read them? If you are in your forties or fifties then you'll recognise them as old friends from your school days. An archaic piece of text is followed by banal questions, a teaching point followed by an exercise, you know the sort of thing. "The door of Scrooge's counting house was open..." Question 1: Where does the story take place?

You can see how this is a check on a pupil's decoding skills - and it's easy to mark: if pupils answer "Scrooge's counting house" they pass, but fail if they answer "under a mouldy pork pie".

Tell me, how does reading a 300-word passage from Dickens "teach" creativity?

Answer (and I quote): "Reading good literature 'models' good technique for the pupils' own work." Oh, really? Now that's an interesting theory. I guess 100 million children have been exposed to Dickens as a 'model' in the past 130 years. How many new Dickenses has this produced? Not one. He's unique. Don't you think that this eloquent theory may be flawed, if not totally obtuse?

Of course it is. In the real world our heroes are the creative people - from Bob Dylan to Dylan Thomas, from David Beckham to Darcy Bussell - the ones who can express themselves in their chosen media as no-one else can.

You see, the literacy strategy is the foal of the national curriculum - that Trojan horse that let in SATs, league tables, payment-by-results, not forgetting those smug and strutting OFSTAPO inspectors. The curriculum is interested in "measuring" to assess "success". As a result, children simply learn how to pass tests and teachers are pressured into drilling them in testable exam answers - just as teachers drilled me into passing my 11-plus over 40 years ago.

Our society needs creativity. My solution below may seem radical but this is only when compared to our Government's extremism, I'm actually a moderate. So what is my way forward?

Abolish the national curriculum, the literacy strategy and league tables and "promote" the OFSTAPO inspectors back to the front of the classroom, and watch them squirm. Give teachers back our trust; give them back the power to judge what is best for the pupils in their care.

Remove the fear of "failure", abolish the testing of facts through SATs and the quest for exam "success". Creative people "fail" over and over again. We have to allow failure and learn to enjoy confronting it. Even Shakespeare wrote some duff stuff but his creative art was honed to perfection in response to the reactions of his audiences . So. Create real audiences and real purposes for writing. Children should not be writing for teachers-eyes-only. Nor should they be writing so they can gain high marks in a test (and a pay rise for teacher).

Cherish creativity. Humans are over 2 million years old and for 99 per cent of that time they weren't "literate" - but they were creative. It's the greatest gift of all and it's what separates us from animals.

Please cherish creativity. Let's not allow the bureaucrats to crush it.

Terry Deary is a children's author and former drama teacher and professional actor

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