I have recently taken a break from blogging due to ‘real life’ commitments, but although I didn’t have time to write, I still found time to read some educational blogs, as well as occasionally look at Twitter.
One topic that has recently sparked debate is that of the apparent absence of Primary bloggers.
This was prompted by Sam Freedman’s blog post “75 education people you should follow“. It’s an interesting list, but led to a debate on Twitter as to why there were no primary bloggers listed (see @samfr).
Cherryl KD wrote an insightful blog in response to this debate “Primary bloggers, where are you?“, which, in itself, prompted more debate.
The main issue Sam Freedman had, was that he included blogs and Twitter accounts where the writers discussed educational issues, policies and theories, in the very general sense. He said that in the primary sphere there were relatively few, and gave some of his own reasons as to why this might be.
Is he right?
I don’t know. What I do know is that although the educational blogs and Twitter posters seem to be secondary teachers in the main, the challenges they speak about are certainly replicated in the primary sector, albeit in a slightly different way.
Record keeping, marking policies, tracking, targets, behaviour, management – it’s all there in primary too. So why aren’t primary bloggers as vociferous about these issues, or if they are, why aren’t they as prominent as their secondary counterparts?
One reason, I feel, is down to the differences in structure between primary and secondary schools. Many secondary schools have 1000 pupils (more in some of the new super-size academies), the majority of primary schools have no more than a third of that number. If you want to see or hear a variety of opinions, you need numbers from which to draw those people.
Subject specialism in secondaries gives rise to specific departments and a hierarchy of management which simply doesn’t exist in most primary schools. For every three-form entry primary, there’s a single-form entry one, or mixed year group school to match it.
Planning, in these instances is done in isolation; there are no colleagues in the same department to approach for help. Instead, there’s a key-stage leader or phase manager, who may not have any knowledge of the subject you have a query about.
The lack of subject specialism also gives rise to a need to plan and teach all subjects. That’s a huge workload, even at KS1. A significant number of primary schools I have worked in have also been very short of cash, so teachers have to make any resources they need, leading to more work.
Secondary teachers also have a heavy workload, and a significantly higher burden of marking and assessment of written work, but they do work in distinct teams in a school, in a way that is absent from primary.
There also seems to be a much higher expectation of providing cover for absent colleagues in primary, classes are divided up and dispersed around the school, PPA is ‘rescheduled’ so a class can be covered, which essentially means it disappears for good. Meetings are arranged at short notice, and often during lunch, and people rarely complain. This could be down to the smaller size of the staff – no-one wants to put their head above the parapet, and there aren’t sufficient numbers of people to absorb any slack. Equally, the smaller staff leads to a greater proportion of management to non-management positions, and so teachers may feel uncomfortable raising a topic if they think it’s going to reach the head and SMT.
One of the most noticeable effects of this lack of time is visible in staff rooms. In general, the schools which have the greatest proportion of teachers staying in their classrooms throughout lunch are primary ones. There often isn’t anyone in the staff room apart from supply and TAs. Primary teachers don’t usually have ‘free periods’ in the same way secondary teachers do, so any cover is done during the 10% PPA time, other non-contact periods simply don’t exist.
When I’ve been in secondary schools I’ve heard debates (well, mostly moans and grumbles!) about the latest educational policy, and I’ve heard some interesting ideas expressed in a variety of ways. But this can only happen when people come together during some free time. If teachers are staying in the classrooms, they can’t hear the opinions of others, nor can they put forward their own opinions. When they do meet, it’s often a hurried discussion about the new marking policy or Katie’s mad mother, or the head’s latest ego trip. It’s a local, not a global topic.
In this sense, it wouldn’t meet the criteria for inclusion in Sam Freeman’s list.
And that’s fair enough. But look beyond the basic, and it shouts out by being silent – why are primary schools so happy to have their teachers professionally isolated? And is this really a problem? Is this, in fact, the problem, the reason there are fewer well-known primary education bloggers?
I think it may be, but I know plenty who would disagree with me.