It’s an unfortunate fact of life that secondary school teachers underestimate how much their primary school colleagues have taught when it comes to computing and education technology. It’s true that in some cases it’s justified, but by and large in my experience it isn’t.
I was reminded of this by a tweet from Miss Salter, who announced:
I have the same Year 7 class on Friday for history and then geography. We spent time looking at what they have studied before. OHMYGOSH. Primary colleagues you are unbelievable - the amount they had covered was incredible.
When I was an ICT adviser in a London Borough, I spent the first couple of weeks in the job visiting as many schools as possible. I visited primary schools as well as secondary, even though my brief was mainly to work with the latter. What I found was that in some schools new pupils were being subjected to lessons which were about two or three years below the level they had already attained in their primary schools.
For example, in one secondary school I visited, the Head of Geography excitedly showed me what his class were doing with databases in Year 9 (14 year-olds). At the end of the tour around their work, he said:
“So what do you think of that?”
“I think it’s brilliant.”, I replied. “In fact, I thought it was brilliant when I saw Year 4 kids (9 year-olds) doing the same thing last week.”
I thought for the moment he was going to escort me off the premises.
“I’m sorry.” I continued. “But I’m afraid you will need to keep a closer eye on what they are covering in primary school, because when these kids come here they will have already done all this.”
I knew that I would need to do something to put the two “sides” in contact with each other. Each year, we had three INSET days for primary schools, and three for secondary schools. I asked my boss if I could make one of them a joint primary-secondary event. He agreed, and we went ahead despite a bit of carping from one or two secondary schools.
Moreover, I set activities during the day which involved primary and secondary leaders of ICT/Computing exchanging ideas and knowledge. At the end, we had a plenary with the whole group.
One Head of Computing stood up and said:
“I’ve just finished writing a new scheme of work for Computing in my school. When I go in tomorrow I’m going to rip it up. From what I’ve learnt today, half of it is redundant.”
The same thought was echoed by many of his secondary school colleagues.
The following September I was asked to give a day’s training to newly qualified secondary school Computing teachers. When I met them I said:
“I thought we could start the day by visiting one of our schools that is doing excellent and exemplary work in our subject. It’s a primary school.”
One of the teachers objected.
“Look.”, he said. I’ve just qualified to teach in secondary schools. I don’t want to waste my day looking at a primary school.”
“Tell you what”, I replied. “Bear with me and come with us to this primary school. If at the end of the morning you still think it was a glorious waste of time, I’ll give you the contact details of my line manager so that you can make a complaint directly to him. Fair enough?”
He agreed. At the end of the morning he came up to me and said that he had never imagined that primary school kids could be so advanced in what they were doing in Computing. It had really opened his eyes and, as the saying goes, upped his game.
What are the practical implications for you?
If you are a primary school leader of Computing, I think it’s worth contacting your counterparts in the local secondary schools to bring your Computing scheme of work to their attention. In this regard, Miss Salter is running a survey:
“Primary colleagues - educate me - what do you wish secondary colleagues knew about EYFS/KS1/KS2. Answers here https://forms.office.com/Pages/ResponsePage.aspx?id=aXG856Bfz0OsPFbd_w2t2-AumHP_sjRKuBbuWWKe6aVUNlFHNllDMUhKSEVMWDBaWDBGN0Q2SlA4Vi4u… - totally anonymous. I’ll summarise.”
If you are a secondary school leader of Computing, let your primary school counterparts know what your scheme of work is, so that they know the level of knowledge and skills their pupils should be leaving with.
Also, at the start of the new school year, rather than assuming all of your new pupils are blank slates, set them a diagnostic test (see 5 Principles Of Assessing Computing And ICT) to find out who knows what, and allocate work and resources accordingly, rather than starting everyone at the very bottom. Consider using pupil mentors too. I saw this used to good effect in a primary school, where pupils who have a great understanding of mathematics give up half a lunch time on a couple of days a week to help those who are falling behind.
Another thing you can try out is using older pupils, such as Year 9 or 10s, to teach groups of younger pupils. You’ll need the assistance of a colleague for this, so as to not leave one group of pupils unattended. I tried this and it worked really well, for the following reasons:
First, I made it count as work experience for the Year 9 or 10 pupils involved.
Secondly, by teaching it, the pupils were able to cement their own knowledge and understanding even better.
Thirdly, it meant that while I was teaching the main class, the older pupils were teaching the pupils who needed to catch up.
Fourthly, the pupils had a change from listening to me all the time!
Obviously, you will need to be sensible and have a balanced approach. You can’t have a situation in which the pupils acting as mentors are learning nothing new themselves. But as a limited and short term solution, these approaches can be very useful. This is especially so if you can make it count for the mentors. I’ve already mentioned using the idea as a form of work experience. It could also contribute to digital badges, behaviour points and perhaps even be included in a pupil’s record of achievement, if your school maintains such a thing.
Bottom line, whatever you do: don’t underestimate your new pupils, or your primary school colleagues!
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