Just over a year ago, I left my PGCE teaching training course, six months into the year long course. It wasn’t an easy choice to make, since about the age of five, I had wanted to be a teacher, more seriously wanting to becoming a teacher when I was a teenager, inspired by the people educating me. The GCSE options that I took were with the career choice of teaching in mind, the same with my A Levels. Initially I had planned to go straight into teacher training, doing a three year undergrad course. I would have been a qualified teacher by the age of 21 and my life would be sorted. My mum and head of year advised me against that, instead suggesting that I did an undergrad course and then went onto doing a PGCE in teaching. So I did and spent three years at uni with mixed feelings of loving the English Language course I chose (the education studies side less so, but we live and learn…) and wishing I was training to be a teacher instead.
Hindsight is a really wonderful thing and it is just as well that I listened to those around me and did an undergrad course. I didn’t go into my PGCE blind, I knew it would be hard work, I knew that I would be giving up my social life for the following few years and I knew it would be stressful. But nothing prepared me for how it really was and honestly, it was probably the six most miserable months of my life.
Teaching by nature is a very demanding profession and I truly admire anyone who does it. I found it soul destroying. I was living at home with my mum and I never saw her. When I was on placement, I was leaving the house at 7am at the very latest and not getting home until about 6pm. Then there was the marking, planning, university assignments, the piles and piles of paper work needing to be completed for university. And it was heartbreaking to spend literally hours planning a lesson, making 30 sets of resources, plus a few spares in case of emergency and to then have your lesson fall to pieces in front of you and have 30 blank faces staring at you, with the occasional murmur of “I don’t get it…” and the observing member of staff not being able to keep a neutral face when scribbling down all the many failings of a lesson. Even if a lesson was rated as good or outstanding, and that did happen, I wasn’t a “bad” teacher, there was still so much wrong. By nature, I am a perfectionist, but the pressure I placed on myself didn’t even begin to compare to the pressure placed on you by the government to be teaching outstanding lessons at all times, regardless of whether you’re thirty years into the profession or thirty days.
It wasn’t even the constant pressure that made me leave. It was a contributing factor, especially after I ended up in hospital for a week seriously ill. I just felt like I was failing the children. Lessons weren’t good enough, there wasn’t enough time in the school day to really get to know the children as little people who have individual minds. But it was more that I developed such a deep hatred of the educational system, I felt that I could not play a part in delivering it to children.
Teach love, generosity, good manners and some of that will drift from the classroom to the home and who knows, the children will be educating the parents.
I feel very strongly that the government is forcing the educational system down a road that is going to be so detrimental to young minds that it actually ends up hindering growth and learning. If you look at happiness rankings across the world, the countries with fewer exams in the education system rank so much higher than countries like the UK or other countries which force feed knowledge for the sake of exams. Standing in front of a class, watching them sit mock SATs papers and seeing children being reduced to tears or panic attacks over the questions and not being able to do anything is so wrong. Hearing that children are too anxious to go to school, when they are only six years old, because they are so worried about the Key Stage 1 phonics screening makes me so angry.
I now work in a school but have the best of both worlds; I get to work with teenagers who are funny, witty, inspiring and often bloody hard work but I can be the person to support them, instead of the person who effectively becomes the tormenter because of exams and government expectations. As we get nearer to GCSE exams, the number of students that we see cracking under the pressure is shocking. Children who are 15 or 16 years of age are turning to self harm as a way to cope because they can’t handle the pressure. In a previous blog post, I touched on the fact that a close friend committed suicide when she was in year 11, partly we think, due to exam pressures. She wasn’t going to achieve her target grades of straight A* in every exam so at the age of 16 she was being taught that she was a failure.
Things are worse now. As I mentioned above, children as young as five and six are too anxious to be at school because of phonics tests at the end of year 1, very young to be told you either pass or are a failure. It says a lot about the state of education when parents are choosing to keep their children off school in protest about education in the UK.
SATs hold no place in education; they don’t tell teachers or parents anything that they didn’t already know. In fact they probably give less information because children are falling apart in exams and under performing. Your life does not depend on GCSE exams either, despite what you’re told.
The spark has gone from education. Children are being taught to pass exams. That isn’t inspiring. Schools are bending over backwards to please OFSTED and at what cost? It isn’t just the mental health of children which suffers.
In the extremely unlikely event that Nicky Morgan ever reads this (she won’t, I’m not delusional) or actually listens to society: let our children be children. Celebrate their kindness and innocence. Encourage them to learn new things because they want to. Let them play, explore and discover new things. Allow them to make mistakes and not be classed as a failure because of it. Understand that using the subjunctive or passive voice at the age of 11 is not ever going be useful. Likewise, expanding algebra at 16. Give children and teachers a choice. Make education personal and enjoy the uniqueness that each child has. Praise the successes, no matter how small they are. But most importantly, stop branding children as failures, before we end up with damaged young minds, too afraid to try and explore for fear of never being good enough.