Are we setting children up to fail? – Ben Ettridge

Winner of the Orwell Youth Prize 2016 – Year groups 9, 10, 11

Teachers. What is their role? You may say it is quite simply to teach children writing, reading and arithmetic but there is far more to it than that. It is vital that children be taught life skills; they must develop a sense of curiosity, awareness and creativity, but unfortunately the ignorance of the government is preventing this from happening.


The teaching profession is at an all time low, with teachers unhappy and stressed, and as a result, we are facing the greatest teaching crisis in our country’s history. The number of teachers leaving the profession has increased by 11% over the past three years and very little has been done about it. Despite the indisputable importance of the occupation and the unattractiveness of the colossal work load it poses, salaries remain low and the government is quick to blame poor exam results directly on the standard of teaching – but could these poor results could be linked to the new governments policies and are they really that important?


Since 2014, 1.4 million more pupils attend schools rated good or outstanding by ofsted. A success? Children’s wellbeing should be at the heart of any school, yet this fact of common sense has been forgotten in a drive for better results and more progress. It was announced last year that British pupils are the most tested in Europe and although it is important to monitor children’s developments in education, this seemed an odd fact to advertise. They are not the happiest. They are not the cleverest. They are simply the most tested.


A Guardian report identified that South Korea has the best education system in the world as far as results are concerned, with rigorous testing and harsh teaching. It seems Nicky Morgan thinks we could replicate this and achieve similar results. That is utterly naive. South Korea gets good results from students, but they go through school like robots, memorising specifications and facts, and thus leave education possessing only the useless-in-real-life skill of passing exams. In short, they lack understanding of the real world, which is something that the past generations have always had but we fear losing if our schools in the UK continue as they are; for they are becoming more and more results driven. Moreover, the new focus on results has had a huge impact on teachers who are working harder than ever but still feel under appreciated.


Teachers in this country are often overlooked, overworked and undervalued. Teachers have to deal with this, and many do not, as a recent poll by NASUWT revealed that 50% of teachers have seen a doctor over job related problems in the past 12 months. Teachers are quite possibly the most valuable asset to our society; for example, you would not be reading this article had a teacher not taught you how to do so. Teachers don’t just benefit society, but mould and create it’s future, but do they get any respect for that? No. In fact, when Jeremy Corbyn spoke at the NASUWT conference, he was accused by  Nick Gibb, the schools minister of retreating “into the fringes”. Is that really what our government thinks of teachers? The fringes?


Politicians are too benighted to realise it is their fault that the profession is in crisis and that because of their seemingly incurable blindness to this fact, nothing can be done, for they hold the power. Nicky Morgan has been in to schools, sat in meetings and written policies but she has never actually been a teacher. She can claim to know the profession, but she doesn’t. Education is not a business, children aren’t machines and their upbringing should be valued. Progress is important, and so is measuring it, but is it really necessary for all children to know all their time tables by the age of seven? Is it necessary that they know what a fronted adverbial sentence is? A better sign that children are learning and developing would be to measure their inquisitiveness, their willingness to learn and the enjoyment they obtain from doing so.


Tests, however, can be good. The Sutton Trust says that “test scores are the best available metric to measure teacher performance,” and it is important to ensure teachers are doing a good job but this proclamation merely passes the blame for poor results from pupils to teachers, and is that fair? The government seems to believe that by issuing harder tests to these young children, they will be raising standards, but in reality they are simply raising stress levels. The scenario: Teachers are stressed because they are being measured by the test results and students are stressed because they feel the need to perform well. Despite the fact that the Department for Education said the new KS2 tests will reflect “our new, more rigorous curriculum, helping every child fulfil their potential,”students have recently protested against the new SPAG test issued by the government because of the anxiety and sheer amount of pressure caused by them. If this exam focussed education system is allowed to continue, students will be demoralised, have a lack of basic life skills and teachers will be forced to put results over student wellbeing. Teaching will be compromised and children guided down a path to failure.


Children deserve to have an exciting, creative, engaging education – and at the moment, that isn’t happening. It is my belief that the core of society is education. Without eduction, society can not exist, prosper or produce unique individuals. The future of our society is being ruined by politicians who are voluntarily wearing blindfolds, hoping the problem will subside. Education needs to change now. Politicians have the power to make education a fascinating adventure for our children and yet they choose not liberate them from an endless stream of tests and results that is limiting our children’s chance to develop as real, interesting people. In the meantime, the issue will continue to develop, and you can’t just blame the teachers.