How does your garden grow?

Careers related learning in primary schools – some thoughts and ideas.

Any good gardener would tell you that if you don’t look after the soil, not much is going to grow and the quality of your crop will be limited. There is growing evidence that providing the right kinds of interactions with employers and the world of work at an early age can make a real difference to the future decisions of young children.

Careers related learning is not limited to talks from parents about their unusual career paths or a trip to a local museum, it is the language that we use, the curriculum that we provide in primary schools and the attitudes and aspirations that we try to foster in early education. Children are exposed to many influences as they develop, most significantly by their parents, other family members and their school friends. Between the ages of 6 and 8, they will have already assigned many jobs to a particular gender, through behaviours and attitudes, therefore limiting much of their early thoughts on a job because of their own gender. Furthermore, between the ages of 9 and 13, they will have placed a social value based on perceptions of social class or intelligence and therefore abandoned ‘fantasy careers’ and placed significant further constraints on career choices. It is therefore incumbent on teachers and school leaders to provide very early intervention to promote better language in Early Years education, to broaden horizons and create opportunities to raise aspirations for young children and their families. This is even more important with families where no one has attended university or has significant qualifications or training. It is also short-sighted to think that any careers related learning in primary school education will wash over children’s heads or be too early for them. It is not about gearing them up for college, interview practice or choosing exam subjects, it’s all about opportunity and enrichment.

Primary schools in the UK currently provide an exceptionally rich diet of a curriculum with hundreds of opportunities for children. What might need to happen more often is a strategic approach to considering the impact on children and their families in terms of exposure to employability skills, the workplace, types of work and pathways. This can be done with a simple data collection tool such as a Google Form, designed for schools to complete a quick subjective assessment of the impact of each of the activities or events each week. Simple. Here’s an example form. This is designed to reduce workload, improve productivity and collect essential information to support and measure impact. We can also use this idea to share good practice amongst schools.

There is a great deal of work out there to demonstrate good practice. Most notably through the research activities of the Careers and Enterprise Company and Education and Employers. What Works? Careers Related Learning in Primary is excellent in creating a clear landscape of advice and ideas with impact.

So what works for you? Are you an employer, looking to find ways to ensure a good record on corporate social responsibility or looking to create a seedbed for your future workforce? How could you help? Primary Futures is a network of thousands of employers offering their time to ensure relevant and timely connections with schools, for children as young as five to meet employers, hear their stories and see what they do. Why not have a look. Drawing The Future is also a fascinating research and review article looking at stereotypes and aspirations of young children. If you are a school leader, consider how to embed careers related learning in every aspect of your curriculum. Bring parents in to support and talk about their unusual career paths, but do it with a purpose and a plan. Group your parents together, get them to share ideas. Most importantly, find out what your children think. Work to broaden their horizons and remove limitations of gender, race, disability or social position. Let’s open a few more doors.

Four key themes run through all of the research:

  • High-quality interactions with employers and local businesses
  • Sustained involvement and engagement of parents and developing a shared role
  • Exposing children to careers related learning and employability skills in the curriculum
  • Inspiration STEM events both in and out of school

Keeping these themes in mind when developing a curriculum that offers more than literacy and numeracy will be essential in broadening horizons for the next generation.

Why not share your thoughts and ideas below in the comments section. It would be good to hear what else works or what the barriers are to this approach being successful.

STEM in Vietnam

Vietnam: An amazing week with passionate, professional educators. A pleasure beyond words.

Best advice: Cross the road carefully.

They weren’t kidding. The eyes in the back of my head (it’s a teacher thing) came in pretty handy when visiting Hanoi this February. I spent the week working with lecturers in education at the Hanoi Pedagogical University, developing their understanding of STEM and how learning outcomes can be approved when adopting the practical approaches of these subjects. Lecturers were mainly Vietnamese speakers, with a range of experiences both as lecturers and as teachers. They shared a passion for learning and teaching and were keen to adopt new ideas. The week was a joint venture between UK-based Dragonfly Training and Educe Solutions in Vietnam, a versatile and innovative company offering training and development for the education sector.

Hanoi is a long way from home but the hospitality I received was exceptional and a there was a warm welcome from University staff and the lecturers on the course. I was fortunate to have a couple of days either side of the course to explore the Old Quarter in Hanoi. It’s such a bustling place with something happening on every street. The buzz of motorcycles and honking taxis and cars is literally in your face for most of the day. There’s an onslaught for all senses, stimulated by smells, sights, sounds, the thick air in your lungs and street food stalls, tempting with doughnuts, skewered sizzling chicken or a waft of garlic, chilli and ginger as you pass another noodle bar. Locals perched uncomfortably on little seats (little from my perspective anyway), hunched over a bowl of Pho’, fiddling with chopsticks, supping the soup or spooning rice noodles into their mouths. The Sunday morning streets around Hoàn Kiēm Lake are pedestrianised and fill up rapidly from about nine o’clock as families gather to chat over coffee, play games, walk, dance, stretch, exercise, paint, build towers, take photos or just hang out with friends. Early arrivals are big groups of kids with load speakers practising their dance moves as if they were getting ready for the next big talent show. There were also a group of locals, picking up litter with tongs – it just seemed to be the ‘thing’ to do.

Hanoi: Sunday morning

I was not the only visitor to Hanoi that week. Much was made of the heralded arrival of two key players in world peace. At least that’s how many people see it. The flags were out, the blooms ready, the pavements swept and the security forces prepped. Trump and Kim t-shirts alongside hats, flags, badges, scarves, models and postcards decked out every souvenir shop along the way. Hanoi touts itself quite proudly as the ‘City of Peace’ and was keen to see it all end successfully. Never mind. We live in hope.

With a few recommendations #asktwitter and a knowledgeable local source I had some idea of things to try on the menu. Noodles was a must. Rice and egg. Both done in a broth with pork slices. The meat is not what you might find in the UK. It’s fatty, chewy and full of bits but it goes with the territory. The flavour is good. Chilli, salt, garlic, lime and ginger dominate with a hint of parsley, coriander and red and green perilla. We had sushi, spring rolls, rice: the usual. Throw in lunch at a buffalo restaurant, with blood, stomach lining and sliced steak and a local treat of seafood hotpot (with a central boiling pot where all the seafood is cooked along with noodles, herbs and vegetables) and you get the idea that food is major part of their life. Top of the list has to be the egg coffee. A whipped crème style custard floating on a viciously strong, thick black coffee. Didn’t think I’d like it. I was so wrong.

The most part of the week was spent an hour north of Hanoi, working at the University and residing at a beautiful lakeside resort. An empty resort. Quiet, peaceful and serene until the Friday night birthday party, accompanied by lots of ‘three cheers’ in Vietnamese and three hours of painful karaoke.

Five days of training meant building good relationships with delegates. Lots of laughs even through translation from Vietnamese to English and vice versa. Lots of practical activities, mainly sourced from Practical Action, to build STEM competencies and confidence. We looked at floating gardens, water filters and tomato carrying cable systems. All the resources for these are on the Practical Action website. Free and high quality (what’s not to like?) We also made balloon racing cars (they got very excited about these), spaghetti and marshmallow towers, vertical marble runs on a wall and egg-carrying parachutes dropped from the tenth floor of the huge central hall. We discussed key tenets of good teaching and learning, we discussed assessment, measuring progress, listening, questioning and promoting diversity and understanding. We worked hard to overcome the need to add labels to types of teaching or methodologies and through exhaustive post-training Q&A sessions we thrashed out the nuts and bolts of STEM for a 21st Century Vietnam. Through a sophisticated online academy, Educe Solutions have also been able to set assignments, quizzes, check progress of delegates and open forums for discussion over key issues evolving from training. Huge thanks go to all the staff at Educe (especially Thanh and Tuan), working on translations, site development and purchasing my extraordinarily long list of resources for the practical training sessions including sand, gravel, tomatoes and lots and lots of tape.

parachutes: couldn’t resist!

I will save my rant about Thai Airways, delayed flights, missed connections, broken promises and a disappearing suitcase for another time and place. It did little to spoil the incredible experience of a week working with highly educated, hard working and passionate educators. Hanoi has a great deal to offer. The down-to-earth, rapidly developing country with incredible people will stay long in the memory and will always be a place I would like to return to.

Want a better world?

Nearly 50 pupils from across Eastbourne and Seaford gathered to discuss and debate ideas on global issues such as clean water, renewable energy and sustainable technologies. They presented their ideas to the conference of pupils and teachers and then shared their ideas with other pupils in true science conference style. Eastbourne College again hosted the second STEM Leaders’ Conference on Thursday 26 April at the prestigious Birley Centre in Eastbourne and it was a great success for all involved.

The schools attending included Seaford Head School, Willingdon Primary School, St John’s Meads CE Primary School, Parkmead CE Primary School, Pevensey and Westham CE Primary School and The Haven VA CE Primary School. Pupils had been working on a variety of projects over the last few weeks inspired by a wide range of resources created by the global STEM charity Practical Action. These projects included The Squashed Tomato Challenge (where pupils find a way to transport tomatoes down a Nepalese mountainside to take them to market without squashing them), The Floating Garden Challenge (where pupils design, build and test different forms of floating garden so that people in Bangladesh can still grow crops even in flood waters) and Ditch The Dirt (where pupils create a water filtration system to clean dirty water).

Conference Organiser, Marcus Cherrill of I Can Teach Ltd, who created the conference on behalf of Pevensey and Westham School said, “The STEM Leaders’ Conference is all about sharing ideas and allowing pupils from local schools to work on engaging and stimulating projects. They can then develop their leadership, teamwork and presentation skills through the Conference. It is a very supportive and non-competitive environment which allows pupils to really develop their confidence. We also had support from a number of local and national companies who provided prizes for the pupils, their teachers and their schools.”

St John’s Meads CE Primary School won a VIP Tour of local pharmaceutical company TEVA, where they dress up in overalls, face masks and hair nets and see how engineering and science skills are put into practice.

Richard Thomas, Headteacher of Pevensey and Westham School said, “We were delighted to run this event again this year. The response from the schools that attended was excellent and it is clear that these kinds of events have a lasting impact on the profile of STEM in local schools.” Aoife Cherrill, acting as a reporter for Ocklynge Junior School, was “impressed with the quality of presentations and the range of ideas presented by the schools. It was great fun and really interesting.”

For more info on the charity Practical Action’s free STEM resources for schools go to www.practicalaction.org/schools

Need a good idea? Ask a child!

Pupils gather to share STEM solutions to major world issues in UK’s first STEM Leaders’ Conference for young people.

Over one hundred 9-12 year-olds from 11 East Sussex schools across Eastbourne, Hailsham and Seaford took part in the UK’s first STEM Leaders’ Conference. They had been working on a range of projects to create imaginative and sustainable solutions to major issues facing many populations around the world including sanitation, clean air and renewable energy sources. The projects were inspired by the work of the charity Practical Action (www.practicalaction.org) who work globally to tackle major issues in developing countries. Their projects include the Squashed Tomato Challenge, Floating Garden Challenge and Beat the Flood. They provide high-quality free resources for schools through their website.

The event was organised by Pevensey and Westham CE Primary School to raise awareness of global issues and to raise the profile of practical STEM subjects. Richard Thomas, Headteacher, said, “We have made practical science a priority at our school. Primary School is not just about Maths and English. We want to equip our pupils with a range of skills and enthusiasm for learning. It is through engaging science that we have been able to raise standards across the whole school. Ofsted inspectors confirmed this last month. This Conference has allowed us to share this enthusiasm with other local schools.” The schools involved were Pevensey and Westham CE Primary, The Haven Voluntary Aided Primary School, Stafford Junior School, Langney Primary, St. John’s Meads Primary School, Grovelands County Primary, Oakwood Primary, Willingdon Primary, Seaford Head School (Secondary), Hailsham Community College (Secondary) and Gildredge House (Secondary).

Pupils from Years 5, 6 and 7 brought along their ideas in the form of working models, presentations, videos and posters. The emphasis of the Conference was very much about the ideas rather than the presentation but the level of expertise in presenting to a packed auditorium of peers and teachers was commendable. Pupils also developed a range of employability skills, a focus of STEM Learning UK, including teamwork, collaboration, brainstorming, leadership and persistence. Pupils were also delighted with Conference ‘goodie bags’ and a variety of prizes drawn through the afternoon.

Conference coordinator, Marcus Cherrill was delighted with the level of support from local businesses and educational companies alike. He said, “These kinds of events don’t really happen without support and people working together. We would like to thank Eastbourne College for hosting the event in The Birley Centre and to TEVA Pharmaceuticals Ltd for sponsoring the staff training event. David Lloyd Eastbourne, The Beach Deck, Deliciously Gorgeous and Games Workshop also provided vouchers for the event. Twig World, Music4Learning and Twinkl Resources also supplied prizes and vouchers for educational resources. We are very grateful to our supporters.” Attending the event, Sarah Jerkins from TEVA Pharmaceuticals Ltd, said, “We were impressed by the enthusiasm all of the teams showed. It was clear that they had put a lot of effort and research into putting their ideas together to make a working model and were able to present their findings to the audience. We look forward to welcoming the voucher winning team to visit our distribution centre in Eastbourne.” The Conference was also supported by the ASE (Association for Science Education), The Science Museum and STEM Sussex and their team of STEM Ambassadors. Marcus Cherrill added, “We believe that with the right support and good planning, this kind of Conference for young people with Science leadership roles in schools, can work without imposing great burdens on teachers or pupils. It really works.”

Two year 7 pupils from Hailsham Community College commented afterwards, “That was great fun! We were really nervous as we had to wait until the very end but we were pleased with our water filtration system. We think it will solve clean water issues in a number of countries around the world. We are already thinking of ideas for next year!”

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Group photo courtesy: India Pocock – Eastbourne College

All other photos: Sarah Carmody https://www.sarahcarmody.uk/