As a new head I have been reminded of that infamous Donald Rumsfeld quote. Slightly misquoting him: “There are aspects about being a headteacher which I think I know about: teaching, learning, assessment, results, data, behaviour, systems, child protection etc Then there are some aspects I know I do not know so much about, for me these include primary transition, special needs, curriculum planning, budgets and HR. Then of course I have found things I never knew I was supposed to know about like counterterrorism, energy status, injections. Fortunately I have really good people around me helping me, as well as my own mentor. I decided to include in my first term a visit to the primaries associated with our school and meet the children and staff without being a nuisance. I already knew my primary head colleagues in our Trust were good people from previous meetings with them but what a privilege to see them in action in their own schools. It was also special for me to find many ex-students now teaching or being TA’s in those schools. Wonderful to see young people who we had helped through the sixth form with progress into HE and UCAS decisions and A Level stress who got into their chosen courses and now were proving to be great primary staff.
When I was a head of sixth form it was obvious to me that we benefited post 16 from all the work staff (including me!) had put into the pupils in KS3 and KS4 – not just their learning but also their attitude and behaviours. Why had I never thought about that in the same manner when considering our primaries. So here are some reasons why I love our primaries:
1.Managing Change. There may be different sorts of change in Primary schools but they are still having to work hard on stuff like ‘life without levels’, like SEND. Whilst I know they don’t get so much PP time I had overlooked staff are not necessarily part of big teams for support, help and sharing. They may do so with other schools but it is still time consuming and like us they are all committed to delivery in the classroom. This means it can feel lonely managing change – but they get on with it!
2.The bread and butter work The basic are no different, teaching, learning, behaviour, attendance, etc The pressures might be a little different (Ok so no difficult teenagers) but I had forgotten the issues as my own children are now grown up and they have to cope with the usual ups and downs of life but meeting issues of ill parents, or bereavement perhaps for the first time. I’ve not written much about our buildings, just to say we lost our bsf and have had very little capital investment but done our best to look after the site even with a road in between. However these might fade to be less significant compared to some of the issues with little people and their facilities. So often I was reminded of my favourite quote from a colleague. Better to be a good school in poor buildings than be a ……
3. Know your children. In our primaries the heads seem to know all the children, the children so look up to them and are so pleased when the head notices their progress which they do often.Well hang on I have the same aim, I try to ask pupils how they are getting on but looking again at my intro I have people to help me with budgets, HR, cover. They have help and they might be smaller but I was still impressed they keep such a high priority on the learning going on. They are also fairly expert in everything – I’m quite good at science and reasonable at maths and ICT and a few other areas but a bit clueless on others like Art ( despite my efforts) – back in the KS2 arena they seem to know everything. I was reminded just how great are great primary teachers.
4.The work. I saw so many enthusiastic children and teachers and all working really hard, I was literally blown away by what I saw going on and by what was in the books and indeed the marking and feedback. My previous admiration of the primary teacher moved up a few notches. I met some Year 0 children searching for photos on the computer, copying and pasting, I started by being impressed and then was a bit scared about what they will be like by age 11 when we get to see them in a secondary.
5. The ethos. If reader you have seen my blog about Chinese heads visit they kept asking me how we got the school ethos over to the children, a question I continue to think about and wrestle with answering. Well here was something to help my thinking – it starts in Primary. This might be because we are faith schools in a RC MAT and so the ethos of an RC school is fairly clearly defined, we have priests who work with us all, we even share our chaplains. Whether it’s that or something else I can see just how much we benefit from the way our primaries are bringing up their children.
So here I am bowing down to the empire of the Primary sector, the Kings and Queens and the foot soldiers and saying thank you for all you do. It confirmed for me the best reasons about academisation was working even more closely together with the primaries to serve our community. A community where the little people I met asked me if I knew their older brother or sister at “your school” – some I did but some I didn’t; a confession none of those heroic heads would be ignorant about. A community where many of the primary staff went to our secondary or have children at our secondary or worship in our parish communities. I so thank you for allowing me a glimpse into your world, thanks for all you do, keep it up. You have helped me with my vision, I hope we can continue to work together over transition and in the future I suspect we might find ourselves working even more closely together. In every sense we really are in this together!
Here is a challenge- work with a feeder primary organise teacher visits maybe half a day – see their job; planning, teaching, marking, assessing, feedback see how little people tick. Then swop, and let them see you. Have some time discussing with each other what you find out about the job. I bet it leads to school improvement – bet!
Q1 What ways can we help each other without any patronising or unnecessary attitudes?
Q2 What ways might we improve transition, especially with the issues around admissions?
Q3 Closer ways to work together for primaries and secondaries in the future?
For those in Church schools
Ephesians 6:2-4 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth”. Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
1 Peter 2:17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God and honour the emperor.
Acts 24:3 Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude.
Ephesians 4:16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
4 thoughts on “Friday period 3 – Secondary schools – trust, thank and love your Primaries”
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How amazing it is to have someone so clearly identify the strengths of primary school teachers!
Having spent a year working in a secondary school before moving ‘down’ to primary, I was shocked by the workload, standards, expectations and specialism required to teach at a primary level. I used ‘down’ as that sadly seems to be the long-standing opinion towards primary practitioners. Until that opinion has changed, the transition between primary and secondary will never be fluid. Since the introduction of the NNC, with a significant increase in pitch, primary teachers are now teaching upper KS3 content! As you stated John, this challenge is further increased as we have to teach all curricular subjects!
Now I am not here to whinge about our workload because, like secondary teachers, we do this job as a vocation! We do it for the children….
I feel that the children we nurture/teach/love/inspire are failed during the transition. There is a need for more fluidity between primary and secondary. One idea would be specialist teachers working between the schools, particularly for the foundation subjects. This could save money from schools budgets, build positive pupil teacher relationships prior to transition (vital for SEN children) and mean children enter secondary at a higher level – this would have a huge impact on Computing, Design Tech etc where resources and facilities are limited in primary. The benefits are endless!
I firmly believe that the single most important factor that has built a wall between between the transition is secondary opinion. It’s not the teachers being patronised, it’s the year 7 children who are not being challenged. In my opinion, secondary school staff do not appreciate the levels to which we teach and I hear far too often from ex-pupils, parents and teachers that children’s progress plateaus in years 7 and 8 – this is down to pitch. I would challenge any secondary teacher to come and spend a day in my classroom – I am confident this would greatly change opinions and be a superb (and cheap) CPD opportunity.
Thanks for the response there is undoubtedly some truth in your points though I suspect it goes a bit on the locality and history especially as MATs move forward. Think we have good relations but I have transition on our school development plan, and locally the EIB who are looking at City wide issues put transition v high- along with Maths and recruitment.
Thanks for taking the trouble to reply in such depth – that seems to show a good indication of the situation