I work as a Learning Mentor in a Primary school, where I am supposed to ‘break down barriers to learning’, even though the school has no focus on social or emotional needs. It was a ‘failing’ school and so the headteacher was brought in to improve standards. This meant the curriculum was restricted to the core subjects, where a holistic education was ignored and instead ‘control’ came to the school, the head getting rid of any teachers who weren’t performing to the new ethos. The school does now have a positive Ofsted report, and the children have improved in English and Maths, but I keep thinking ‘at what cost?’

I can count the number of friendships between the pupils on my hands because there is little space for social interaction. The kids are seated according to their levels and this changes often, and talking in the class room is only allowed in two minute slots when discussing an answer to a question. The kids constantly tell on each other for the smallest thing, or are commenting on why their classmates work is bad. Breaktimes are crazy- I think it’s the kids letting loose. They either fight or can’t find anyone to play with. To me it feels like the children are being set up for the ‘call centre’ mentality- just work, don’t talk, tell on your colleague if they aren’t doing exactly as they should. Oh, but you’re allowed some downtime- the playground becomes the pub.

I feel constantly watched and judged, and on edge if I am not ‘seen to be busy’, which actually deters from supporting the children. If I am late I am told off, even if the reason for lateness was stopping a child from throwing a table or hitting another pupil. It’s all about what my timetable says, rather than what’s needed for me to carry out my job. How can a child trust that I’m listening to their needs if I stop them mid-sentence, just because I can’t be a minute late to the next lesson? It’s absurd.

The staff are not supported, having to work with a child if they have just been hit or are blamed if their class is unruly. We are supposed to work ‘above and beyond’ our duty, coming in on extra days unpaid and so on. I now see why unions are needed so staff do have somewhere to take their concerns. Our union notice board is hidden by a book stand, half the staff are agency and lunchtimes are staggered so a large group is never together, which I feel is on purpose. I’m still working out how to overcome this, but maybe I’ll become a steward and organise through the internet, at least initially.

To sum up my workplace I’ll quote from when a teacher yelled at pupils talking in class:

‘Do you think you are here for friendships?’

The teacher then went on about their levels and how they’ll never find a job. At that point, my heart felt punctured. Friendships should be a main focus in schools. Children should not feel like failures when they enter the school gates. Children should have freedom of interaction and exploration and teachers should be allowed to encourage this. I know this is not what education should, or has to be like. We can do better.

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