Pupils are being drilled to pass tests, warns union leader

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Children are being subjected to regimented school days in which they are drilled to pass tests rather than enjoy their education, a union leader has warned.

There is no room and freedom in modern education to make youngsters feel excited about learning, according to Alison Sherratt, the incoming president of the Association and Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

Schools can no longer spend weeks on topics such as Humpty Dumpty due to the pressure to tick boxes and pass “arbitrary” levels, she said. “School days are too broken up into regimented tasks, with the days dictated by a strict timetable – maths at 9.30am, reading at 10am, spelling at 10.30am – with little room for changes to reflect how children learn and what’s best for specific children,” Mrs Sherratt said.

“And far too much of what is taught is based on what children are going to be tested on, which leaves little time to pick up children’s questions about other issues or explore topics of interest.

“We’ve lost the room and freedom to give children an excitement about learning. It’s no longer possible to spend six weeks on a topic, which would include maths, science, vocabulary, writing, reading, poetry, drawing and cooking, as I did with the theme of Humpty Dumpty, a topic my pupils remember nearly 40 years later.”

Teaching children by topic makes it easier for them to link subjects, she said, adding she feared that the new primary curriculum, due to be introduced next autumn, “will do little to encourage such creativity or free thinking”.

The new president also condemned the Government for constantly criticising teachers and said there was a lack of respect for the profession.

“Thankfully the majority of parents still value and respect their own children’s teachers and schools,” she said.

“But unfortunately the drip, drip, drip of criticism from the Government and Ofsted about teachers and schools is feeding through to parents so many now think that schools on the whole are poor.”

She added: “Unless the Government stops its constant criticisms and its ridiculous obsession with tests for their own sake, it will turn teaching into a last resort profession and turn generations of children off learning for ever.”

An Ofsted spokeswoman said the inspectorate was there to “champion the rights of all children and learners to a good education.”

She added: “While we make no apologies for challenging the system to do better, Ofsted also celebrates success where we find it.

“Sir Michael Wilshaw has said on many occasions that he believes teaching is the most honourable of professions and indeed, he wrote to every school in England at the end of last term to commend the hard work of teachers and school leaders in raising standards.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We agree that the constant ‘teach to the test’ culture should be tackled. That is why we are scrapping modules and January assessments to end the treadmill of exams and ensure pupils develop a real understanding of each subject.”

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