It’s that time of year again, you know, the “E” word – EXAMS! At one time it used to be a gap when teachers under pressure for the majority of the year, could relax a little. After all, you had taught them all they needed to know for the exam, how to answer questions and the rest was up to them. But not anymore. The pressure carries on, right until they have sat their last paper, and beyond to results day.
All too often when results don’t live up to expectations, there is an inquest and teachers are under pressure to account for their failure. In secondary schools the question is “why didn’t everyone targeted to, get their 5 A*- C?” In sixth forms and sixth form colleges “why didn’t they achieve their minimum expected grades?” And guess what? The answer that “little” Steve, Jasmine or Simeon didn’t do any work, is not acceptable, neither to the angry parent, nor to the senior management team.
Former teacher and now educational researcher Dr Kevin Eames, lays the blame firmly at the feet of the educations market. The culture has caused pupils and students to become “consumers” of education. In a BBC news article a couple of years ago he suggested an explanation for putting teachers under pressure:
“If something goes wrong – it’s the teacher’s fault. If the exam results are not what are expected, it is also the teacher’s fault. It’s this shift from pupils learning from someone who has the knowledge – to becoming consumers who are judging the providers of that knowledge – it’s like a beauty contest into ‘edutainment’,”
Indeed, in 2010, The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) named teaching as the number one stressful occupation in England. While that may seem difficult to believe when compared to jobs such as: brain surgery, police having to tell someone that a relative has died or a social worker dealing with an abused child. All of these jobs deliver periods of acute stress. What the HSE may have meant however, is that teaching is chronically stressful. The brain surgeon, police officer and social worker don’t have the “management” breathing down their necks while they carry out their role on a daily basis. It is this close and excessive scrutiny which puts teachers under pressure. As the “Secret Teacher” in The Guardian suggested in September 2012:
“Imagine performing on stage to a packed house, only the audience isn’t the paying public but is fully made up of the most fearsome critics. Throughout the show, these critics give you their review; if it’s going well they might let you know but if it’s going poorly they definitely will. The rewards can be great but so can the consequences”
So, with Nicky Morgan breathing down the necks of head teachers last weekend, doing a commendable impersonation of her predecessor Michael Gove and threatening worse to come for so-called “coasting schools” you know it will only get worse. So, when little Jasmine comes to you in panic the day before her exam, demanding your help, just smile the old clown smile and remember it is your lot, we’re all teachers under pressure!