You are on page 1of 11

1

University of Bristol
Graduate School of Education


Primary School Experience Report
Westbury-on-Trym CofE Academy
3-14 September 2012






Minkee Kim
Post Graduate Certificate in Education 2012-2013
2

Introduction

I undertook my primary school experience at Westbury-on-Trym CofE Academy observing one
of the two Year 6 classes. Located in a middle class suburban area of Westbury-on-Trym, the
school‟s intake reflects the demographic despite its catchment area extending to less affluent
neighbouring suburbs such as Southmead and Henbury. The school also has a very low ethnic
intake. Its motto is „Learning Together, Learning Forever‟ with an apparent emphasis on
collaboration. Indeed, at the end of assemblies the pupils respond to, “Our service has ended,”
with, “Our service to each other begins.” Also, this plaque can be seen on a playground wall:

The school was graded as “outstanding” by Ofsted and recently became an academy. It
did seem to be an outstanding school, especially in terms of behavior, which, in comparison to
my own primary school experience was the one aspect I felt to be vastly different. Given its
status as an academy and the apparent financial benefits it brings, I was unable to determine how
much of an influence this has in a fiscal sense, though it has given the school a measure of
control over the curriculum such as teaching Spanish instead of French. Nevertheless, it was
certainly a school with above average wealth boasting excellent ICT facilities and brand new
netbook computers.
3

The Primary School Week

The primary school week had far more variation that I was expecting, both educationally and
socially. As it was the beginning of a new school year, there were inevitably some organizational
activities as well as a sense that pupils needed a couple of days to get used to a new teacher and
understand new expectations upon them. Indeed, from the first day they were constantly
reminded of the fact that they are “in Year 6 now” especially whilst being given instructions to
sort out their own chairs, exercise books and pencil cases. In terms of development, I detected a
very definite sense that as children progress through their primary school years, the emphasis
shifts dramatically towards nurturing independence. This was later confirmed by the teacher who
acknowledged the importance of Year 6 as being the final opportunity to prepare them for life in
secondary school education.
Within the class setting, the children‟s social experiences were most obviously displayed
on the first day, beginning with the measuring of their heights. I thought this was interesting
given that as they get older they will invariably start to become more socially aware of this,
leading perhaps to self-consciousness. They were left to their own devices to line up in order of
their heights giving them an awareness of difference, not only physically, but also socially. This
sense of being encouraged to think about society and the wider world in which they fit in was
regularly aired in class through examples given by the teacher. For instance, she frequently
referenced race, colour and religion as one might do with more mature young adults. She also
made a list of class rules, decided on by the pupils themselves, all feeding into the notion of
social and moral awareness. The class as a whole showed remarkable enthusiasm in doing this,
perhaps more than when they actually had to produce work during subject hours. Similar
enthusiasm was shown in their willingness to stand in the front of the class and talk about their
4

summer. Finally, pupils were given social experiences on a daily basis through assemblies, and
of course, playtimes.
In terms of educational experiences, whilst broad in nature, its variation seemed to be
matched by its moderation because the focus seemed very much to be on raising standards in
literacy and numeracy. This was very much in line with the Primary National Strategy of which
literacy and mathematics plays a central part (Directgov, 2012). The intensity, breadth and depth
of study that pupils engaged in were accordingly matched to their importance, whilst other
subjects such as science and Spanish were demoted to the status of near „taster sessions‟ that
gave pupils a brief and welcome respite from the comparative rigours of creative writing and
working out fractions. Other subjects such as RE took a more involved role, though heavily
influenced by literacy development, and the pupils‟ week was further supplemented by PSHE,
art and PE classes.
In general, the engagement of pupils depended less on what they were doing than for how
long they were doing it. But almost universally, they were most engaged when they had to apply
their attention in an interactive way, be it through technology or teacher to pupil interaction in
the form of brainstorming at the beginning of a new activity. I think perhaps that anything that
veers away from the traditional notion of „teacher speaks, pupils listen‟ can have a psychological
effect on pupils to minimize any general dislike or ennui of being in school, which for a minority
seemed insurmountable. A YouTube video of a police car chase seemed to enthral some of the
pupils, and I had never seen such a young audience show such passion for Countdown. Clearly,
the children are in need of constant guidance, but in a way that does not impinge on the Year 6
goals of fostering independence and helping them to „learn how to learn‟. It was indeed a careful
and delicate balancing act which I feel will be a factor even into their continuing education.
5

Literacy Experiences and the Literacy Hour

My observations of the pupils‟ literacy experiences revolved around the topic of crime. This
topic was introduced on their first day and would form the basis and thematic significance for
both literacy and RE. During literacy sessions, the development of effective and creative writing
was at the heart of almost all the exercises and activities. The overall topic was a familiar starting
point for discussion, analysis and creativity, which would then lead into a formal writing exercise.
It was interesting to note when the teacher realized the difficulty for the majority of the
pupils of a previous literacy exercise, deciding to break it down into something more guided and
manageable. Much of the groundwork and topic awareness had already been done to get them
thinking creatively. The class had discussed a wide range of issues surrounding crime, such as
the types of crime, the appearance of criminals and famous detectives. They had been asked to
write a piece of journalistic writing of a crime in good detail, all the while being encouraged in,
but not hand fed, the use of exciting adjectives and appropriate connectives. I could see that the
onus to want to learn and learn independently was a factor that filtered down into every aspect of
the children‟s school experience. I was, at first, surprised by the level to which the teacher was so
„hands off‟, but before long I began to form the impression that this early stage in a child‟s
development is the only place in which to instil an idea of what education is about and what the
role of a teacher should mean to them.
The teacher made the change of direction at the beginning of the second week, and
though it may have seemed like a backward step, it was in fact merely taking a step back and
reassessing the situation. I feel that I learned something from this, especially considering that it
did achieve its desired effect. After showing the class a YouTube video of a police car chase, to
which every pupil paid full attention, they were encouraged to participate and contribute to
6

describing elements in the video with the most sensational adjectives they could think of. This
kind of participation was the starting point for a lot of the classroom activities regardless of what
subject was being studied and was on the whole very effective in involving all the pupils. I felt
that most of the students wanted to learn and show off what they knew, which might be half the
battle in education. If this is a common theme inherent in young learners, then perhaps in my
own teaching I should give much thought into how best to exploit that in order to achieve my
educational goals. Following on from the initial discussion, the class was encouraged to think
about what the key ingredients of crime were, coming up with, evidence, criminal, victim,
witness and, of course, a crime. Then the whole class were involved in creating a crime in which
David Cameron was brutally murdered. This allowed them to be as inventive and crazy as they
wanted to be with their descriptions of what happened, further engaging the class into the topic
and what would eventually be required of them. At this point, the teacher introduced the idea of
using not only effective adjectives and connectives, but also subordinate clauses that would be
appropriate for the type of writing they were to undertake. This time, they were given slightly
more guidance in how to incorporate these linguistic skills into their writing and were, more than
before, encouraged to use the resources available to help them do so. At the end of this section,
you will see a photo of the kind of language they were using:
The main writing exercise followed the key ingredients of crime that the class had
worked out earlier, beginning with an account of the facts of the crime itself, followed by a
description of the criminal, then the evidence. Each was written as separate entities, which would
presumably form a bigger piece of work. Despite the renewed clarity of this literary activity, one
factor that could not be constant was the different abilities of pupils. Allied to this were the wide-
ranging attitudes to learning of some members of the class. In my capacity as observer, I also
7

acted the role of teaching assistant thus giving me the opportunity to assess individual needs,
strengths and weaknesses. In my view, most, if not all of the children were perfectly capable of
producing work of Year 6 standard and in the way that was asked of them. The issue was one of
attention span and maturity in relation to education, and really, just being in school. There was
no reason to believe that such variations would not be prevalent in secondary schools, and going
forward, this would certainly be an area of particular interest to highlight in my own teaching.



8

Year 6 Writing Analysis

In light of the different abilities of pupils, and the fact that these abilities are what a lot of the
children will enter secondary schools with, an analysis of their writing will, I hope, provide a
good insight into preparing to teach them myself. Whilst they are not forced in any way to write
in a certain way, they are given guidance throughout their primary school experience to, for
example, use capitol letter appropriates, use correct grammar and punctuation, even something
like writing along the margins. However, around half the pupils seemed to make repeated errors
in these aspects. Perhaps the question of why is not as important as determining how to
effectively teach or eradicate these basic errors in literacy as they approach secondary education.
Below is an example of a pupil‟s writing whose ability is higher than the work he produces:

Immediately, there is a sense that the writing is disorderly and erratic. Each line begins at a
different distance from the margin and does not continue to the end of the page. There is barely
any regard for punctuation with capitol letters in random places. The writing is actually about
9

average in terms of what is actually being written. The issue, then, is in the way it has been
written. Teaching a pupil how to write did not, to me, seem to be difficult at this Year 6 level
since most of the class would make an effort. But from my previous observations in secondary
schools and seeing the types of issues in young learners relating to desire, the potential solutions
become less apparent. From my conversations with the teacher, though it was not obvious to me
before, she has developed specific ways in which to respond to different pupils. This was mainly
in the realm of behavior management, but such strategies can of course be employed in terms of
the academic side of things too.
Here is another example of a pupil‟s work, which in my opinion is at about the same
imaginative level:

The most noticeable difference is the method of writing that is less chaotic. There is an attention
to detail which has not been missed through higher ability, but more likely through just making
more of an effort. The simple additions of punctuation and a sense of an actual account of
10

something that is written in a way which reflects this makes this a much easier piece of work to
assess and use to aid further development. However, I feel that such cases would present great
difficulties that are based in the fact that given similar pupil abilities, there are nevertheless very
different needs not necessarily based on what they can do, but rather, what they want to do. I feel
that such considerations may become a significant part of being aware of my students in the
future, though it is also true that there is a limit to which one can cater for everyone.
One potential factor that may help pupils understand how English is written is through
regular reading. Indeed, at the beginning of each class session, the Year 6 pupils would read
quietly, and then later, read aloud to me outside the classroom. Reading records are kept and
from speaking to some of the pupils, they do read at home. But I just wonder how effective their
reading is and whether there should not as equal an emphasis on reading as there is on writing
since these two forms of literary practice are heavily interlinked.

Adults and the Literacy Development of Children

In the previous section, I talk about how much reading children may or may not be doing outside
of school. But the issue then becomes a private one and the domain of parents. From listening to
pupils read, there were varying standards and it was easy to see which ones were the readers. My
personal view is that reading is as essential in the development of literacy as writing and that
pupils, up to and including Key Stage 4, should be reading far more than they are. What
surprised me was not their reading abilities, but their choice of reading, some that were totally
inappropriate or unhelpful for literacy development. In my function as teaching assistant, I was
able to assess and guide, for certain pupils, and I felt that it is something that would be beneficial
for every pupil to do on a regular basis, be it with a teaching assistant or with their parents.
11

Conclusions and Key Issues as an Intending Teacher of Secondary English.

I feel that my ideas on teaching have been significantly widened through this primary school
experience. To see where secondary school pupils have come from and how they have
development has allowed me to think about a whole range of issues from different learners and
standards to an appreciation of how education will change for those continuing onto secondary
level from Year 6. Another aspect of schooling is, of course, classroom and behaviour
management, which is only going to get more challenging as the children grow. One important
lesson I learned is to have specific strategies for certain pupils that you know could become
difficult to control. However, this is obviously something that goes through constant evolution
and change. In terms of literacy and the move up to studying English as a distinct subject, such is
the variation in preparation and abilities before entering secondary school, I feel that this is really
what will be quite testing as a teacher. There are so many factors to consider and so much to
adapt to, both in terms of teaching method and one‟s own character, in order to achieve the most
effective strategies to develop the learning of young people.

Bibliography

Directgov (2012) The National Curriculum for five to 11 year olds. Available from:
http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Parents/Schoolslearninganddevelopment/ExamsTestsAndTheCurriculum/D
G_4015959 [accessed 18th September 2012].

Ward, H. (2010) ‘Academy status for my primary? I’m on the fence’. Available from:
http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6050412 [accessed 18th September 2012].