ATL says government should look again at tests and exams regime

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Teachers are put under increasing pressure to get pupils through tests and exams, according to a survey by the ATL.

The survey of 512 teachers showed more than 70% of them supply pupils with more practice tests and questions than in previous years, 68% run after-school classes, and 63% provide one-to-one tuition to get them through tests and exams.

In addition to their usual teaching, nearly a third (31%) said they help pupils prepare for tests and exams by attending meetings to find out exam themes, and more than a quarter (26%) give pupils rewards and incentives.

Ninety per cent of those surveyed believe tests and exams are the major cause of pressure on pupils and young people, with nearly two in five (39%) saying overwhelming pressure they are under for their pupils to achieve good test and exam results could compromise their professionalism, and more than a third commented that it could compromise their integrity (35%).

ATL general secretary Mary Bousted, said: “Children in the UK remain amongst the most tested in the world. This creates a huge pressure on young people, with many whose progress has been outstanding on a personal or emotional level feeling like failures following test and exam results.

“With the government’s persistent focus on tests, exams results and league tables, many teachers and lecturers also feel under enormous pressure – often at the detriment to high quality teaching, learning and development of their pupils. Results now appear to be more important than learning, and this does nothing to help children progress.

“The government needs to think urgently about relieving the pressure on headteachers and leaders, pressure which swiftly filters onto teachers and lecturers in the classroom.

“We believe it’s time for the government to look again at its tests and exams regime. School league tables, school banding and Ofsted inspections undermine the curriculum and do nothing to support pupils and their hard-working teachers, lecturers and leaders.”

A secondary school teacher at an academy in London said: “Exams are not particularly a burden in my subject, but coursework is. My students and I have been doing additional work after school, at weekends and during holidays since the start of February. It wasn’t like this four years ago.”

A secondary school teacher at an academy in Hertfordshire added: “Revision classes for year 11 pupils are getting out of hand with departments competing to offer as many as possible.

“Unrealistic, computer generated targets are in many cases impossible to achieve. Staff are stressed but more importantly, pupils are close to breakdown with the demands being put upon them in out-of-school hours and the Easter holidays.”

To help their students get ahead in exams, over a quarter (28%) of respondents feel obliged to attend exam board seminars.

A teacher at a state secondary school in England stated: “I know of an exam meeting where it was strongly hinted which topics would come up in the exam. I was glad my school were there but I felt sorry for those that were not.”

A secondary school teacher at an academy in Hertfordshire said: “We don’t go to many exam seminars because we can’t afford it! Because of this we probably lose out to those who can.”

Nearly two in five (39%) individuals said that the overwhelming pressure they are under for their pupils to achieve good test and exam results could compromise their professionalism, and over a third commented that it could compromise their integrity (35%).

A primary school teacher in England remarked: “I have been forced to manipulate results so that levels of progress stay up, as our head fears [there will be] an Ofsted inspection should our results waiver. I work in an infant school.”

A one-to-one booster teacher at a secondary school in England stated: “The school I work at definitely pushes the boundaries of exam integrity. Maintaining their “gold-plated” status by far takes precedence over developing the abilities of the pupils. Controlled assessments and aspects of coursework are problem areas for cheating, with senior leadership driving the agenda.”

A teacher at a Northern Ireland grammar school commented: “In some cases I end up virtually re-writing my students’ homework to match the marking criteria, rather than teach them my subject, French. I do this because there is simply not time to do both!”

Seventy-three per cent of education staff said that they feel under a lot of pressure when preparing pupils to get through tests and exams. Seventy-one per cent of those feel under more pressure now than they did two years ago, and the same percentage feel under more pressure now than they did five years ago.

A secondary school teacher at an academy in Essex stated: “I hit rock bottom after having a year of bad results. There was lack of support, bullying towards me from the head and too much pressure to succeed.”

Eighty-eight per cent of those who responded to the survey state that pressure to get pupils through tests and exams comes from the leadership or management, who are themselves under enormous pressure to achieve good results for their schools and colleges. Sixty-six per cent said that the pressure for success is due to school league tables and school banding, 51% refer to Ofsted, and 50% mention the pressure from pupils’ parents.

A secondary school teacher at an academy in Hertfordshire said: “We are an Ofsted outstanding school and yet the fear of God is being placed upon us to maintain this. The senior leadership team are dreading the visit and the whole school seems to be geared to results not the welfare of staff and pupils.”

A head of department at a sixth-form in Kent remarked: “Pressure mostly comes from the headteacher and senior leadership team. Ofsted is a waste of space and has Michael Gove ever been in a classroom?”

Overwhelmingly staff felt that the pressure to get pupils through tests and exams was having a detrimental effect on students’ education. Eighty-eight per cent said it prevented the teaching of a broad and balanced curriculum. Seventy-three per cent of teachers, lecturers, leaders and education staff said that it had a detrimental effect on the quality of teaching, and 71% on the quality of learning.

A former sixth form tutor at a Newcastle secondary school said: “When you can’t get through all the curriculum, it’s very tempting to teach to the exam only and miss out the rest.”

A teacher at a state secondary school in England commented: “Teaching to the test means that I am not prioritising the needs of the pupils in learning about my subject; it only prepares them to respond to formulaic questions.”

Ninety per cent of those surveyed believe tests and exams are the major cause of pressure on pupils and young people. And 90% of individuals said that the pressure of tests and exams causes increased anxiety in pupils. Eighty per cent feel that pupils fear failure and 63% said that test and exam pressure leads to lower self-esteem.

A teacher at a state primary school in England stated: “Not only as a teacher, but as a parent, my son really felt the pressure of SATs tests – he stopped eating, his sleep was disturbed and he told me about butterflies in his stomach, he was so worried – he was six!”

A teacher at a state primary school in England remarked: “The more able pupils at literacy and numeracy tend to thrive on the competition and challenge, the other three-quarters of the class are more stressed and anxious. I fear we are switching a great many pupils off before they have even left primary school!”

 

 

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