We can't compete with television, teachers complain

Children can only learn lessons delivered in sound-bites, says union chief

Children of today's television generation lack the attention span for in-depth learning, the new head of one of Britain's teaching unions has warned.

Teachers need to adopt more of a "sound-bite" style in the classroom to stop their pupils becoming bored, Julian Chapman, the president of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said.

Mr Chapman, a teacher at Cheltenham Bournside school and sixth-form college, said teachers "struggle to compete with the sort of presentations seen on television".

He told his union's annual conference in Bournemouth: "Students' concentration span appears to have been tailored to the sound and vision bite rather than the more rigorous process of in-depth learning.

"Teachers are under enormous pressure to keep students engaged and attentive at all times."

Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, had warned that the levels of misbehaviour in schools had increased as a result of pupils having to endure boring lessons.

Mr Chapman also warned that teachers had become trapped in a "treadmill" of delivering numerical targets – such as improvements in the percentage of pupils getting five A* to C grade passes at GCSE – which made it more difficult to bring more creativity to their lessons.

"If a teacher is forever trying to satisfy criteria laid down by others, it leaves precious little room for experiment and innovation in one's own delivery style," he said.

His warning about the impact of television on the modern generation of children comes just a week after another teachers' union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, agreed to seek a meeting with TV executives – claiming that the explicit content of many programmes put out before the 9pm watershed was leading to poor behaviour in schools.

A survey of teachers named Little Britain and EastEnders as the main culprits in the promotion of bad language.

Mr Chapman also criticised Britain's bosses for wanting to retain traditional A-levels as a "comfort zone" qualification but – at the same time – complaining that standards were "not the same as in their day".

He warned that there had been a "measure of confusion" over the introduction of the Government's new diplomas. "There are still some teachers for whom the real value of diplomas is unknown as it is less clear how they will be received by higher education and employers."

The diplomas were introduced in five subjects – ranging from engineering to leisure and tourism – for the first time last September. By 2013, they will be up and running in 17 different subjects in an attempt to bridge the academic/vocational divide.

The Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, has indicated they could replace A-levels as the normal route of study for students after the age of 16.

Short cuts: Teaching in sound-bites

*HISTORY:

How to remember the fate of Henry VIII's six wives: Divorced (Katherine of Aragon), Beheaded (Ann Boleyn), Died (Jane Seymour), Divorced (Anne of Cleves), Beheaded (Katherine Howard) , Survived (Katherine Parr)

*ENGLISH:

How to teach Shakespeare. Get the class tickets for the Reduced Shakespeare Company (all 37 plays delivered in 90 minutes)

*SCIENCE:

Learning the Planets. My Very English Mother Just Served Us Nuts (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune). Older classes can use My Very Erotic Mistress Just Showed Up Naked

*GEOGRAPHY:

Teaching the four directions of the compass: Clockwise Never Eat Shredded Wheat

*MATHS:

Take a leaf out of David Blunkett's book when he praised a school that had its pupils singing their times tables to rap music

*HEALTHY EATING HABITS:

Get them to watch a re-run of Jamie Oliver's Channel Four series on school dinners

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