When I taught primary, within the first week of teaching a class, I would have spent around 25 hours with the same 30 children. By the end of the week, I would know all the children’s names, and would have started to gain a feel for where they were in terms of learning and development. I would meet the parents each day at drop off and pick up time, to chat about how their children had been doing. When I taught secondary drama, I would spend an hour a week with each class – it would take me 25 weeks to spend 25 hours with my students. When report time fell early in the year, I would find myself writing about students I barely knew. Often the first and last time I would meet their parents was at a parents’ evening. At preschool we use a ratio of one adult to five children and our children attend for up to 25 hours a week. Each practitioner is ‘key worker’ for a handful of children – they observe and plan for these children’s learning in detail. The practitioners create a ‘learning journey’ document for each key child. The children are often with us for more than two years. We have close, frequent contact with parents, grandparents and carers.
It doesn’t take a Maths degree to see that there are significant differences in the amount of time teachers in different sectors spend with each of their children (and with the children’s parents too). I’ve been following Nick Rose’s teacher survey and the results he has collated with interest. One of Nick’s findings is that primary teachers are more likely to have a ‘progressive’ rather than a ‘traditional’ view of education. My sense is that this is probably quite simple to explain. It is partly to do with the children’s age – working with 2 year olds can be a bit like “herding kittens”. Good luck with direct instructing them for more than five minutes at any one time. It is also surely about the level of abstraction in what you are teaching. A small child can learn the first concepts of volume by playing with water in the water tray. They are not going to pick up astrophysics in the same manner.
But I suspect the difference is also to do with the relationship that early years and primary teachers have with their children, because of the amount of time they spend with them. It is much easier to personalise learning if you know children really well. When you have a sense of where each individual is, you can adapt the methods you use to suit the needs of each child. And let’s face it – no matter how much of a ‘traditionalist’ or a ‘progressive’ you feel yourself to be, if you had to spend 25 hours a week, 38 weeks a year with one person, you probably wouldn’t want them teaching you in the same way all the time.