How do we compare? European teachers’ views on London primary schools

One of the really interesting parts of our work here at London CLC is hosting visits from teachers and policymakers from other parts of the world. It is always fascinating to share experiences, hear from them what our system looks like from the outside, and discover how other countries approach things differently. There’s usually a peak in visits around this time of year as teachers like to combine their visit with a trip to the BETT edtech show, which took place earlier this month.

The international teachers get a good insight into our work and the English educational system. They visit the London CLC office and a local primary school, where they see a class in action and have time to ask questions and discuss the British approach to teaching computing and computational thinking.

This year we had the additional pleasure of our Erasmus project partners visiting around the same time. You can read more about this international programme in our previous blog post, Learning from European educators in our Erasmus KA2 project, but, briefly, Co-think is an Erasmus + KA2 project exploring inclusive practices in teaching computational thinking to primary school children. As part of the project Danish, Swedish, Finnish, British and Dutch children will take part in simultaneous learnathons and their teachers will have the opportunity to share practice and co-deliver computer science lessons across the five countries.

Tinkering v copycode

With the help of Computing at School’s Jane Waite, a London university researcher looking into how programming is taught to primary aged pupils in England, we discussed differences in the level of scaffolding that the various teaching systems offer to children. The least creative way to learn is by rote, through copy code. There’s no design and no debugging training and it often leaves holes in children’s understanding, despite allowing them to produce seemingly impressive results. At the other end of the scale, there’s tinkering – letting children play with the code freely. The downside? The risk of ineffective learning and developing bad programming habits. Most teachers and education systems mix up these approaches without being aware of them, although copy coding is common in many commercial resources.

England is unusual in that, for the last three years, it has had a computing curriculum including a separate computer science element. Other countries take a more cross-curricular approach. As a result, we’re a step ahead with learning about the pedagogy of how children learn to program. At London CLC we’re able to lead on teaching and learning in this area as we’ve been developing our experience by working with the UCL Knowledge Lab on ScratchMaths, which creates a real structure around teaching programming and improving maths. It has shown the benefits of guided exploration, of offering parameters but not providing everything, and of building up the conventions of good practice in programming strongly right from the start, from naming scripts to using precise language.

But, back to our visitors – what did they think of their visit to Hitherfield Primary School?

Display not textbooks

All the teachers remarked on use of the physical environment in English classrooms, particularly displaying pupils’ work on the walls. The use of displays to show work and prompt children’s thinking is not something they are used to in their own countries where textbooks are used much more heavily (which is frowned upon in the English system).

Early literacy…but long-term impact?

The teachers were particularly struck by the quality of writing of very young children aged five and six and the children’s ability to express meaning in writing. They felt that the writing ability was much higher than in their countries at this age. However, they did question whether that gain would still be there at a later age and they suggested that they thought the quality of writing of older children, aged nine and 10, was actually the same. This puts into question the benefits of the focus on such early literacy skills in England.

Numerate, focused and chatty

The teachers were also impressed by the level of maths ability of young children, their ability to stay focused and topic with their conversations and just how articulate they were.

Testing, testing…

As we have got very used to hearing, the teachers were alarmed at the teacher workload and pupil testing regime in English schools, and how much testing we do so young. The Finns, for example, do not do national testing until 16. They also spend many more years training teachers, putting time and mentorship into treating it as a Masters profession. Unsurprisingly, they do not suffer the same retention problems as the English system.


Finally, how could we resist noting that a Danish teacher commented that the atmosphere in the school was warm, homely and cosy – hygge!


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Upcoming CPD

Summer primary school computing conference
Summer primary school computing conference

This event will build upon the Autumn computing conference by inviting subject leaders to reflect on their year in the role, sharing their successes and challenges. It will also introduce new ideas, tools and approaches through talks and practical activities led by members of the CLC team, with opportunities for attendees to share their own expertise and experience. Over the course of the conference activities will touch on the three main areas of the computing curriculum: computer science, digital literacy and information technology. We will also feature advice and examples illustrating the use of technology to support blended learning.

- 15:30
Computing subject leaders, Teachers...
Creative Arts, Digital and children – CLC meets More Than Robots online
Creative Arts, Digital and children - CLC meets More Than Robots online

Combining forces for the first time, the Connected Learning Centre and More Than Robots have created a session for teachers, youth organisations, researchers and policymakers interested in the digital provision of creative arts for primary aged pupils.


The Play Observatory - Prof. John Potter

“In their own words”: Westminster Abbey & CLC digital projects - Sian Shaw

Building (and maintaining) a city-wide primary arts curriculum to raise attainment - Kate Fellows

More to be added soon

This interactive and inclusive meet up will include inspiring examples of how technology can be used to support learning in music, visual art and drama in person and online at home drawing on our experiences as Tate Exchange associates and our partnership work with a range of cultural institutions.

This informal event is an opportunity to discuss real examples of what does/doesn’t work, meet colleagues from other sectors working on similar challenges and share useful research, news or updates

The morning will include case study presentations (details below) followed by a Q&A. There will also be an opportunity for a rapid sharing round for launches, project updates or requests for help and a short break to avoid zoom brain drain.

- 11:30
KS1, KS2
Subject leaders, Teachers...

Upcoming Special projects

The News Project
- 14:25

Special project in collaboration with First News Education

For a third year, building on two successful previous projects, we are once again partnering with the children’s newspaper First News, fellow member of the national Making Sense of Media and News Literacy networks. This special project with a literacy, PSHE and citizenship, as well as computing focus, highlights our specialist interest in this important aspect of digital and critical literacy.

The News Project will enable participating classes from year 5 to immerse themselves in news and current affairs using First News and the Bett award-winning First News iHUB, which will be provided free of charge during the school-based part of the project over a six week period. Under the guidance of their teacher, pupils will be supported in their development as a community of fully informed news readers. Classes will test their new critical skills and knowledge in the culminating virtual celebration event which will include a news competition and team-based critical literacy and editorial activities. After the event, schools will be able to use the resources from the day in their school.

The project will launch with an introductory CPD session for teachers to set the context, demonstrate resources and to plan for the school-based activities. 

Initial CPD session - Thursday 21st October 4pm-5.00pm. 

Project work undertaken in school - October and November.

Special event - Thursday 25th November 9.30am-2.45pm.

The Garden Museum

The CLC is once again partnering with the Garden Museum to offer a partnership project for KS1 pupils (primarily suited to Yr2). Located next to Lambeth Palace on the bank of the Thames, the museum has an inspiring collection that provides the ideal stimulus for young learners to explore the world around them.

Pupils will use technology alongside the museum’s collection to explore the wonderful world of seeds.

  • How are they planted?
  • How do they spread?
  • What is inside them?

 The Garden Museum has a large collection of seeds and tools that pupils will engage with.

These half-day sessions will take place at the Garden Museum.

There is a limited number of dates available, so please book early to avoid disappointment.

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