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Who is top class? Television show puts teachers to the test

They are very good at dispensing advice about revision and managing stress. But how do teachers cope when they themselves are put to the test? A new television series finds out

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They are very good at dispensing advice about revision and managing stress. But how do teachers cope when they themselves are put to the test? A new television series finds out

It is widely acknowledged that high-stakes testing is often just as stressful for teachers as it is for pupils.

But a new CBBC TV series is making this link explicit. In order for pupils to win the series Top Class, their teachers have to prove their own ability under test conditions.

Lights, camera, addition

Demonstrating that not all pupils believe they are already over-tested, children from 16 schools have voluntarily signed up for additional testing, as part of the 15-episode series.

Under the bright lights of the studio, host Susan Calman delivers what is essentially a made-for-cameras version of the key stage 2 tests.

“What’s 3,927 plus 432?” she asks. And, because no primary-school test would be complete without questions on grammar, pupils are asked to identify the parts of speech in a number of sentences, most of which would be unlikely ever to appear in the KS2 tests.

“In the sentence ‘Kim Kardashian wore a glittery dress to the awards’, which word is the adjective?” Calman asks. The pupils ace this round.

Test the teacher

But the pressure really begins to show during the Test the Teacher round. Each team must bring along a teacher willing to be tested.

“We brought Mrs Davies,” says Faris, a member of the team from St Pius X Preparatory School, in Preston. His school is competing against West Leigh Junior School, in Essex.

Mrs Davies was chosen, Faris adds, “because she always makes us do general knowledge. So we thought we’d put her in the spotlight.”

The lights flash, the music plays, and Mrs Davies steps up on to the podium. “Have you done any revision?” Calman asks.

“Just a little bit, about pop culture,” Mrs Davies says. “My children aren’t as young as these children now, so I’m a little bit out of it.”

She is then faced with a volley of pop-cultural questions. What does the text abbreviation “TBH” stand for?

“TBH? TBH?” She looks confused. “Pass.”

One of the St Pius pupils drops her head into her hands.

Which Canadian pop star had a hit with Love Yourself in November 2015?

“Oh! Justine Bieber. Justin. Justin Bieber.”

At the end of one minute, she has amassed three points. The St Pius team smiles encouragingly. It is the taking part that counts, their expressions say.

Must try harder

Next up is Mr Dunn, from West Leigh. Mr Dunn stands on the podium in tie and shirt; he has glasses and a bald patch.

He was not actually chosen by his pupils to represent the school, team member Jonathan explains: “We had no choice, because he chose the team.”

Mr Dunn defends himself: “I think I’d have got into a lot of trouble if I’d volunteered someone else.”

Keen to beat the clock, Mr Dunn interrupts a couple of the questions, giving wrong answers as a result. At the end of the round, he has scored only two points.

Jonathan grimaces and sighs. “I think some of the questions he could have got right,” he says.

Top Class begins on CBBC on 12 September. It will be broadcast daily.

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