Students anxious and disaffected because of onerous examination system, teachers warn

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Students are being asked to learn things for which they are not developmentally ready and are stressed, anxious and disaffected because of the onerous examinations system, teachers have warned.

At the same time, teacher morale is low and many are considering quitting the profession because of the workload resulting from accountability.

The negative impact of accountability on both teachers and pupils was a key issue at the annual conference of the National Union of Teachers in Harrogate over Easter.

The event saw the publication of an interim report from research commissioned by the union. Involving 8,000 teachers, the investigation, by emeritus professor Merryn Hutchings and Dr Naveed Kazmi from London Metropolitan University, found that an overwhelming majority of teachers believe academic targets have led to a narrowing of the curriculum.

Eighty-four per cent said that social and emotional learning was being neglected due to the focus on English and maths, while 93 per cent said that this focus also led to less “creative, practical and investigative” opportunities in lessons.

A key concern, the report adds, is the withdrawing of lower-attaining pupils from other classes and wider cultural opportunities in order to take booster sessions in English and maths.

The report also highlights that the introduction of the new “challenging and ambitious” curriculum has led to some pupils being “pushed” to learn things or take GCSE examinations that they are not ready for, with 90 per cent of the teachers reporting this trend.

Furthermore, 94 per cent of the secondary participants reported stress-related conditions among pupils, especially high-attainers, around exam time. Other effects included disaffection, a reduction in the quality of teacher-pupil relationships, and less time for pupil reflection because of the sustained focus on exam preparation.

The interim report, which comes ahead of a full research report this summer, adds: “Disaffection and anxiety are not distinct categories; some of the accounts we collected described pupils who had become extremely anxious about tests, and the longer term outcome was that despite having high attainment, they become disaffected.”

Meanwhile, a motion on workload and accountability debated by delegates slammed the impact that the current system has on teachers. 

The debate highlighted previous NUT research showing that 90 per cent of teachers have considered leaving the profession within the last two years because of workload.

The motion, which was passed, called for the union to press the next government to introduce a “binding work/life balance policy for schools” and to increase planning, preparation and assessment time while also reducing class sizes.

It stated: “Conference believes that ... an accountability system that does not trust teachers, excessive monitoring of the profession and cuts to support staff have negatively impacted on teachers’ workload, on their health and emotional and personal wellbeing and have no recognisable benefit to children’s education.”

Moving the motion, teacher Steve Nolan from Fylde, said: “Nobody should be made to work 60 hours a week. Nobody. The heart of the workload problem is not just the number of hours, it is what we are doing in those hours. Hours and hours in which we are forced to do things which are of no help to the kids. Phony accountability.

“We are kept from being able to plan the exciting and interesting stuff that would be of use to them. (We are) too busy being accountable.”

The motion backed the union to “maintain and escalate” its campaign of national strike action to help win a national contract that allows for a “genuine work/life balance”.

An proposed amendment calling for the union to declare rolling national strike action starting in October and November was defeated after a vote by delegates.

After the debate, NUT general secretary Christine Blower called for a “root and branch reform of the out-of-control accountability system”.


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