Reader’s Rant – Cardiff teacher – NUT website 12.11.09

Christine Gilbert, Ofsted chief inspector, says she thinks that boring teachers are responsible for the deteriorating behaviour in our schools. I wonder if she launched this crackdown as a smokescreen to divert attention away from the failings of her own organisation. After all Ofsted had just described Haringey’s children’s services as ‘good’ shortly before the death of Baby P, and as ‘grossly inadequate’ shortly afterwards.
The Guardian reported on 5 January that the chief inspector felt there was a link between pupils’ “boredom and achievement” and that their “behaviour is deteriorating because they are not being stimulated enough in the classroom”.
Representatives of both the NUT and NASUWT pointed to evidence allegedly showing an improvement in the quality of teaching over the last 15 years. However there is no independent evidence on how standards have changed. Ofsted judgements have varied throughout the period (with greatly fluctuating interpretations of the 3 grade – is it sound? Is it satisfactory? Is it unremarkable? Or is it unsatisfactory after all?)
Is it possible to make every lesson exciting? It’s very difficult to conduct four to six exciting lessons every day, five days a week, plus having to deal with late night and weekend marking and preparation. Not every child is interested in your subject or likes your approach. Not every child comes from a loving and supportive home. Or maybe the school is lacking the resources to help the teacher make their lessons more exciting?
When I joined the teaching profession in the seventies, we were encouraged to be creative and collaborative. I organised residential courses, educational trips and theatre visits for my pupils. I invited speakers in, introduced educational games and role-play exercises, used quizzes, puzzles, videos and computers, and team taught, to instil a love and enjoyment of my subject.
By the time I retired two years ago I’d had enough of government initiatives. Their insistence on a mechanistic approach to the national curriculum, their obsession with testing and examination preparation, the pressure of league tables, the naming and shaming, the negative impact of Ofsted and its dubious political role. Performance management led to increased teaching to the test, which, while it may have caused temporary test improvements, has also led to narrow, restricted and extremely boring teaching.
The conclusion is obvious. Schools could be happier places, and children could enjoy their education more, if New Labour would drop its insistence on the national curriculum, testing and reductionist approaches to teaching. It’s time for this government to listen to teachers and educationalists.
Chris Newman, Cardiff

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