Missed opportunities in primary school

Among the amazing children I have taught over the last few years, a boy springs to mind: he is the son of a couple from Eastern Europe, his father some kind of nuclear physicist who probably works in a role he is way too over-qualified for. This boy is my top mathematician, my top reader and his vocabulary, despite English being his second language, is truly vast. His peers who also have parents from Eastern Europe are also similarly inclined towards all things academic, but he really stands out the most. I watch this boy calculate and I can see he is surely destined for great things. He does need quite a strong leader to ensure he behaves and concentrates, but it’s fine because I am happy to ensure high standards of behaviour and effort are maintained – even if he thinks I’m not being nice at the time. He will forget me and all that will remain is the knowledge I gave him and that excellent handwriting I insisted he had; that is the way it should be. However, it is when we have our science lessons, or our history lessons, for example, he stands out the most. The sheer amount of knowledge he has already acquired because he is already a fluent reader who reads and has great conversation with his parents – all this knowledge bursts out of his head and he makes those connections effortlessly. This is a boy who knows all about the universe, the wars, ancient kings and queens and oh so much more. His questions cause you to dig deep to make sure that you can give him that knowledge his permanently switched-on mind is so desperate to assimilate.

This boy is just 5 years old.

Abandoned pool from the 1936 Berlin Olympics – I find these sorts of photos fascinating. They represent wasted opportunities and how in the absence of purposeful use, they become dilapidated.

Compare this fine mind to the boy who sits next to him, barely reading, barely talking. The difference in knowledge already acquired and the subsequent ability to make connections with what is taught is truly staggering. Not only does he struggle to access what is being taught and is therefore more likely to default to being silly, he also struggles to communicate and interact with his peers which ultimately affects his ability to make and keep friends.

Is the difference innate? Nope, not really. Genetic differences are small. What is different is their upbringing. Our boy of wonder has simply had many more conversations with his parents and he has had the practice required to finally read fluently and then gain his reading wings, thus launching him into the world of independent learning. He also causes me to look back at the years when my own children were young and caused me to feel so much anguish about how those years were wasted because I was not enough of a purposeful parent for and with them. My sons were reading early, clearly intelligent, but I thought they would just sort of acquire what they needed naturally. I didn’t make as much effort as the parents of our wonder boy and I assumed their primary school would be giving them the same amount of interesting knowledge, as well as that excellent handwriting! Oh, how I was wrong. They did alright because it was a nice school with nice kids. Their SATs results were above average, but that didn’t mean much really.

It’s too late.

They’re doing really well, but I know they could be achieving so much more and more importantly, their minds could be more open, curious, if they had more knowledge with which to make insightful connections.

So, this brings me back to this amazing little scholar. You know, we could go back even further. My point is that the longer children float along in their own world without that purposeful parenting, or that purposeful, knowledge-rich teaching, the more likely they will eventually end up with closed minds and fewer opportunities. Fundamentally, this is about happiness. Who would want to be mired in the day-to-day dross of life when they could be thinking about the moons and the stars? Why wait till KS2 for a knowledge-rich curriculum? Why not have the same approach, the nod to evidence-informed teaching and learning, even in those earlier years.

These children are capable of so much more.

Who’s with me?


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