They know not what they do

25th November 2011 at 00:00

It's finally happened. I can't say I'm surprised. A teacher has been accused of taking a maths exam in lieu of one of her absent pupils.

Can it be that we've actually started taking exams for the children? Let's face it, we are forced to help them so much in preparing for exams that we practically do it for them anyway. The pressure to achieve ridiculously high results is crippling. In many ways we are all only a small step away from taking the exam as we're writing responses on the board, modelling A* answers and teaching the mechanics of exam success as opposed to kindling the flame of passion for our subjects.

The constant quest to improve on last year's GCSE results might eventually signal the end of teaching in this country. Perhaps advancements in technology and the Government's obsession with pupil progress will eventually render teachers obsolete.

Rather like the self-service checkout in Tesco, pupils of the future will enter the classroom, plug into their laptops, download exam answers from RobotTeacher and memorise them. Hey presto! All exams will be passed. All targets will be met. And the best bit? No time is wasted with actual teaching or learning.

It's the kids I feel sorry for. They are so wrapped up in achieving their target grades, it's easy for us to forget they've never known a different education system. They've only known continual assessment, and as one of my old heads of department once said: "You don't make the pig fatter by weighing it, my love."

Pupils seem so wrapped up in targets that they have become completely reliant on us. Why go and investigate a piece of work independently and risk the chance of not getting top grades when you can ask the teacher to tell you the answer? It's spoon-feeding on steroids. They have no idea that they should be responsible for their own learning. No clue that we learn from our mistakes. No concept that taking risks is the best way to understand that there is often more than one answer, and that choosing between them is one of the most important skills one can learn.

The education system has more than a little in common with Mary Shelley; we've both created monsters, though ours are so reliant on us that they probably wouldn't be able to work out how to escape from Victor's laboratory.

But it isn't their fault, just as it isn't ours if they don't reach their target level. Pupils ask me why I'm asking questions about the poem we're studying. "Why aren't you just writing the answers, Miss? That's how we learn best."

Now don't get me wrong, I believe in helping every pupil to achieve their potential. It's just that the more I teach, the more I realise that a pupil can achieve top grades without being able to work independently, show any hint of an enquiring mind or be able to synthesise ideas.

It is up to us, then, to achieve the nigh impossible. We must help these pupils achieve the highest grades, while making sure that when they get out there in the big wide world they're able to think for themselves. We must maintain the values that inspired us to become teachers in the first place. We must make sure we're giving young people the education they never knew they deserved.

Amy Winston is an English teacher at a comprehensive in the West Midlands.

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