What keeps me awake at night: 'I’m doing the exact opposite of what I came into this job for'

One teacher voices her concern about how the government's fixation with English and maths targets is turning children off learning at an early age


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Children used to love learning in my class. They’d skip in every morning with a bright smile and call out "What are we learning today, Miss Flynn?” I would also have walked in that morning with a bright smile and I’d be excited about what I was going to teach them. I’d have introduced the topic the week before, got the children really excited about it and then together we would have mapped out what we wanted to know and how we would get there. Obviously I’d have steered it to cover national curriculum but the children owned it. They were excited to be in school because they knew that their lessons were going to be exciting. They also knew that they had a teacher who really cared about everything they were going through, both in and out of school, and if they needed someone to talk to, I had break and lunchtimes to offer them a listening ear. Funnily enough, this resulted in my children making good to outstanding progress throughout the year. Some may have made steady progress each term, others may have taken a different route, but they got there in the end.

Unfortunately, this is not what education is like now. My children walk in looking tired. I’m tired. I’ve spent the weekend desperately trying to work out a way of making "underlining noun phrases" exciting so that they can do them in the new Year 2 Spag test. I’ve also been catching up on all the extra-curricular and enrichment planning and prep that I’m damned if I’m going to let slip in my school. If a child’s behaviour is slipping in my class, I’m diverting them to the school mentor or giving them pointless solitary break time losses rather than talking through their issues because at break and lunchtime I’m busy trying to prepare for the next lesson in case we have yet another drop-in observation or learning walk. Or I’m trying to get ahead with my marking as there’s another book trawl this week and I’m still stupidly doing dance club or dreaded booster classes after school and I don’t want to get behind with my books. Funnily enough, the children’s behaviour is not improving.

'Losing the love of learning'

You see, the government is right to want to improve education but what it doesn’t seem to grasp is what actually needs improving and how. It wants almost impossible rates of progress in English and maths, which of course we can do: we’re teachers and we make the impossible happen. But at what cost? Yes, I can force-feed children Spag rules. Yes, I can ram mental maths facts down their delicate little throats and I can get them to perform like monkeys at the end of the year for the government. But we will have lost a love of learning with it. A love of learning that is vital for lifelong learning. By the time they go to high school, I worry that they will hate school. I already hate school and I’m not even in their position. Where will this leave us as a country? Children who can’t think for themselves as there was no emphasis put on taking time to think creatively. We’ll have fewer scientists, artists, sports people and designers because no matter how hard we fight for our foundation subjects, we realise that to survive we have to fit more and more English and maths in our timetable to achieve the standards set out before us.

So what keeps me awake at night? I’m doing the exact opposite of what I came into this job for: I wanted children to love learning and go on to be lifelong learners. How long can I go on doing this? A question that many teachers are asking themselves right at this moment.

The writer wishes to remain anonymous

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