John Donne wrote that no man is an island; he might have said the same thing about schools. Many schools have a mindset perhaps best described as “splendid isolation” – except that there is nothing splendid about it. In fact, in many cases it is just plain daft. Here are my reasons for saying so.
Secondary schools should collaborate with their feeder schools
- The last thing anyone wants, at the start of the first Computing lesson of the first year in secondary school, is to hear a barrage of “We already did that 2 years ago!”. Finding out what feeder schools are doing is a first step towards avoiding such a scenario. In my experience, many secondary school teachers are a bit disparaging of their primary colleagues, seeming to assume that all the kids have been doing for the last six or so years is colouring things in. The reality is that much of the best practice in ICT and computing is to be found in primary schools, a fact that secondary schools ignore at their peril.
- Many secondary school teachers can tell which primary schools their new pupils have come from, without even looking at the information provided. In a worst case scenario, some pupils will have been doing advanced Scratch programming while others will have spent the last couple of years perfecting their skills in PowerPoint. At the very least you, if you are a secondary school teacher, will need to know this in advance so that you can organise lessons and resources to enable both catch-up for some pupils and extended work for others.
- If you’re in a secondary school, collaboration doesn’t have to be, nor should it be, a mere information-gathering exercise in order to work out a response strategy when the new pupils arrive. Once you have found out what the best primary schools are doing, you should make that your starting point, your working hypothesis, for all new pupils. Once you have decided that, then you can start to be more proactive, by telling the feeder schools what work will be covered in the secondary syllabus. It may even require you and your colleagues to up-skill yourselves.
Primary schools should collaborate with their destination schools
The reasons are, in a sense, the inverse of the ones above.
- There is not much point in “under-skilling” your pupils such that they are at a profound disadvantage when they start their secondary education. It doesn’t do them any any good, and it doesn’t do the reputation of yourself or your school much good either. It’s in your own self-interest to find out what will be expected of the pupils when they start in Year 7, and then work out ways of addressing the situation if you need to.
- If you’re a primary school teacher in the opposite set of circumstances, namely that your pupils are, in effect, being de-skilled in their new secondary school, then for their sake you should do something about that. I’ll be considering a few options in a future post.
Schools should collaborate with other schools, full stop
I’ve recently been teaching on some courses for teachers of Computing and ICT, and I can’t tell you the number of times a delegate has said they are not allowed to work with colleagues from other schools because they are in an Academy. This is a good example of where the commercial approach of non-co-operation with rivals doesn’t translate well into education. It is completely ridiculous for schools to be struggling independently of each other to get up to speed with the requirements of the new Computing Programme of Study when they could often gain so much from working together. For example:
- Sharing the costs of bringing in outside trainers to bring teachers up to speed with programming
- Running professional development sessions after school on different aspects of the curriculum, using a different host school each time
- Sharing ideas on projects and units of work – and perhaps even a jointly-agreed scheme of work
- Sharing ideas on how to assess the new curriculum
- Moderating work to come to a shared agreement of how different standards of work are to be graded
- Sharing facilities: if one school has an outstanding music technology set-up, say, while another has outstanding computer facilities, maybe there is scope for sharing so that each can benefit?
Let us hope that common-sense prevails, or that the desire for self-preservation outweighs the desire for aggressive independence.