Having an effective understanding of science is incredibly important both for the individual and society. Children are entitled to know how the world works – without this knowledge their lives aren’t as rich. A good understanding of science will allow them as adults to make informed decisions on important matters, such as voting, or receiving a vaccination as has been seen recently. And it opens doors to numerous careers in a huge range of fields, not just the ‘traditional’ science professions.
Our approach to teaching science is different from some schools, as they will use an inquiry-based learning approach, which involves minimal guidance from the teacher and pupils designing their own experiments to check their own hypotheses. For example, this could take the form of asking the children to look at a bug and see what they can find out. However, an increasing number of studies show this is ineffective as, without having the right knowledge in place, children won’t know the questions they need to ask to get the most out of the approach.
To teach science effectively we, and all Paradigm schools, use a ‘knowledge-first’ system instead, which focuses on teaching children the scientific knowledge before anything else. The teacher breaks problems into manageable parts and shows the solution to each, before the children practice using similar problems. By doing this, the children then have the foundation they need to be able to do the inquiry-based learning effectively. It also helps the children develop essential skills such as problem solving, understanding scientific texts or extrapolating accurate conclusions from results.
Another way we improve science outcomes is to meet regularly with teachers from the other schools in Paradigm Trust to share ideas. A large proportion of time is spent discussing ways in which children can be better prepared for the move from primary to secondary school, and how to make science effective from Nursery to Year 9. We have found by doing this there is now less disruption when pupils move from Year 6 to Year 7 and their learning experience is far smoother. Much of this work is led by Ben Rogers who is on the Education Committee at the Institute of Physics, and on the editing panel for the Association of Science Education journal. He is also part of the Ofsted Science advisory group, with a particular focus on primary schools.
Since we have been working this way it is noticeable that children are achieving better results and becoming more engaged in the subject. Between now and the end of the school year our curriculum will cover a huge range of scientific topics, including Forces and Magnets, Living Things and their Habitats, Light and Sound, Renewable Energy and Earth and Space.
Despite the current challenges around the majority of our pupils learning from home, we have started the term on a high by ensuring children both at home and in school experience the same quality-first teaching and learning they would get in the classroom.
This is as a result of the extensive planning and preparation we had done before the start of the year. We took the findings and insights we gained during the first period of lockdown last spring and summer, and with other Paradigm Trust schools built a robust plan of action which we could apply should we need to close and engage in remote learning again.
Our preparation continued when children were back in school, during the autumn term we investigated the best way to use the technology available, and our staff became adept with the tools they would need to teach remotely.
So when, with barely twelve hours’ notice, the official notification that schools would be closed to all children (apart from vulnerable and key worker children) was received, we were able to move swiftly to remote learning with a minimum of disruption. Now we are teaching with a mix of recorded and live lessons, including our fantastic RWI lessons as reading is our main focus and we want this to continue even though we are in different locations.
Our approach to teaching online adapts to fit the age group. The older children are more independent and able to concentrate longer for live and recorded lessons, while the younger year groups benefit more from shorter, more attention-grabbing snippets of input. As well as customising lessons to year groups we are also tailoring them to their learning groups so the work we provide is suitable to each child’s academic capabilities.
One of the major challenges during the first lockdown was the digital divide, with many families unable to access the online resources available due to a lack of appropriate devices and/or a reliable internet connection with sufficient data allowance. To overcome this challenge we have loaned school Chromebooks where needed, and purchased dongles and data for families who need them. We are also supplying non-digital resources for lessons such as Art and DT.
It’s important all our pupils continue to get the support they need, so we ensure pupils at home can get in touch with an adult throughout the school day via Google Classroom or a live video link. We are supplying the meal vouchers to families who are eligible, and our Pastoral Care team continue to support pupils where needed. Our EHCP pupils are able to come into school if they wish and our SENCO has arranged for support staff to provide interventions/extra support/speech and language therapy, as they would in school.
Lockdown is a challenge, but one we are meeting head-on. It is an opportunity to adapt and improve our teaching and learning, both in the classroom and remotely online. As we would do in normal circumstances we are seeking the most effective ways to teach, testing different innovations and then sharing those that have been proven to be effective with the rest of the school and the entire Trust. It is our goal to always deliver an effective, challenging and interesting remote learning experience for our pupils, so they can all achieve their best.
Pedagogy may not be a common term, but it simply refers to the method and practice of teaching. Having a well-thought-out pedagogy improves the quality of our teaching and the way students learn, helping them gain a deeper grasp of fundamental material. Being mindful of the way we teach also helps us better understand how to help children achieve deeper learning.
At Piper’s Vale Primary Academy, and in every other school in Paradigm Trust, our pedagogy is about teaching the right things effectively. It’s about how we know what to teach, how we teach it, how we know what has been learnt and perhaps most importantly, what we do if learning hasn’t happened.
With children only having a finite number of hours in school, the time we have to educate them is limited. This is why it is absolutely crucial to optimise those hours, using every second as efficiently as possible. If we teach efficiently, at the end of a child’s school career s/he will be well prepared to flourish and lead a positive, fulfilling life.
We base our pedagogy on two evidence-based works – the first is Teach Like a Champion, a collection of techniques which combine to deliver incredibly effective learning to the children. Over the last three years we have added Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, which establishes ten different strategies for teaching and assessing. The two works complement each other, providing a well-rounded base on which to build our pedagogy.
By using the same pedagogy across Piper’s Vale there is consistency in the way we teach, in the way we behave and in the way we apply our rules, from Early Years right through to Year Six which hugely benefits both pupils and staff. And when children move to Ipswich Academy, another Paradigm Trust school which uses the same pedagogy, they will already be familiar with the way things work, allowing them to settle more quickly and resume effective learning sooner.
However, we understand every class and every child is different, so our pedagogy is designed to be flexible, giving our teachers the tools for each individual situation and allowing them to adapt the strategies intelligently to fit the needs of our pupils and subjects, while still fitting the underlying rationale.
We are always working to improve our pedagogy, and one way we do this is to record ourselves teaching so members of staff can see how the strategies work in our context. We also have weekly drop-ins to observe teachers and give feedback, so they are continuously developing their practice and evolving over time. And when someone makes a successful adaptation, because of the shared pedagogy it is easy to put into practice across every Piper’s Vale class and at the other Paradigm Trust schools. In the same way we benefit from improvements made elsewhere in the Trust, so we can be sure we are doing the best for every child at Piper’s Vale Primary Academy, improving their outcomes and enabling them to have the best chances in life.