What keeps me awake at night - The tyranny of clock and clipboard

14th October 2011 at 01:00

8.55am comes at me like a starter's pistol. The daily education race is on. It starts with a time-and-motion study on how long it takes children to hang their bags up (four minutes for a class of 30 sharing a narrow corridor cloakroom with 30 others). The order has come through to have every child seated and working (that is, writing) by 8.58am - three minutes after they line up in the playground laden with coats, bags, lunchboxes and letters from parents. The next time-saving measure was to do away with any storytime for the last 10 minutes of the day - time that could be better spent "learning" (that is, more writing).

The time crusade goes on. Assemblies are now timetabled to begin at the same time as the bell for the end of lunchtime, causing us to catapult classes into the hall (one class - the last in the queue - had the door shut on them for being too late).

Timetables have been distributed to all classes detailing how every second is to be accounted for - mostly reading, writing and maths. They still don't have Sats for art, music or PE.

In case any member of staff should digress from the sacred timetable, the senior management team spends vast amounts of time hovering in classes and corridors armed with clipboards to check all is as it should be. There is no reflection or thinking time any more for children or teachers. Education has become all perspiration and no inspiration. Teachers are given guidelines on how many pages of writing each child should be completing in a lesson. If Shakespeare handed a sonnet in here he would be sent back to his table to make it longer.

I teach like I'm running for a bus. There's no time to talk to the children; no five minutes to sort out playground problems and hear about weekends. During one of the routine time-wasting inspections at 9am on a Monday morning I was frantically ordering children to get their pencils out and get writing under the glare of the clipboard and stopwatch in the corner of the room.

Children thrusting notes and dinner money at me were met with a universal, "That's lovely, brilliant. Now go and sit down and get your book open." One girl looked suddenly downcast at this and, when the clipboard had left, I went to have another look at her note. It said "Lily might be a bit upset today. Her rabbit died last night." Some things are probably worth making time for.

The writer is a primary teacher in Nottingham. To tell us what keeps you awake at night email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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