If you listen to the current government, you could be mistaken for thinking that the main purpose of Primary school was simply to get children ready for Secondary school so that they can finally get on with the all-important task of gaining their GCSEs.

But those of us who work in Primary education know that getting children ‘GCSE-ready’ probably doesn’t even make our top 10 list of priorities.

Historically based in smaller catchment areas than Secondaries, Primary schools are at the heart of many communities up and down the country.

They may offer before and after school child care, run a selection of intriguing clubs (paper aeroplane club, anyone?), have their own vegetable gardens and a shed for reading.  They may run termly ‘Maths With Grandma’ mornings and have a playground mural painted by 4-year olds.

And that’s all before they even start to actually, you know… teach the National Curriculum.

But what’s the most important thing a Primary school can do for a child?

I wondered how educational experts might answer this question.  So I decided to ask some of them…

Let’s meet the panel:

Sally Michaels

Sally Michaels

Founder of Total Primary

Steph Caswell

Steph Caswell

Founder of NQT Life

Lindsey Nelson

Lindsey Nelson

Founder of Opportunity Unlocked

Mark Warner

Mark Warner

Founder of Teaching Ideas

Sally Michaels

Sally is the founder of Total Primary and the Total Primary Hub. She is also a SENCO and an experienced primary teacher.

For me, the most important thing a Primary school can do is to be a place of safety and security for all children.

Children need to feel secure in order to step outside their comfort zone: whether that’s trying a difficult set of calculations in a Maths lesson, learning to play the trumpet or asking someone new to play with them on the playground.

Every day, we expect children to try new things where there’s a good chance they might fail.  I think the most we can do is to create the best environment for them to do that.

We should be establishing a culture that sees failure as a way of making progress, embraces the differences between children, encourages curiosity and ‘out there’ ideas.

We should be teaching kindness, empathy and being a good friend to everyone – and these things do need to be explicitly taught to children.

If we get this right, if a Primary school is a safe and secure place for all children, that’s when everything really starts to come together.

Steph Caswell

Steph is a former Deputy Headteacher, SENCO and primary school teacher. She currently writes books for NQTs and runs the NQT Life podcast and blog.

Great question! I believe that it is encouraging them to be the best version of themselves that they can be; only competing to be better than the person they were yesterday.

Don’t focus on what your friends got in the test or who is being unkind to who in the playground. Did you beat your previous score in the test? Are you being the kind of friend that you would want to have? That’s the most important thing.

My brilliant headteacher in my last job always talked about developing and nurturing the ‘whole child.’ This is crucial and I believe that primary schools have a lot to do with developing this in every pupil.

It isn’t just about the academic side of things; are they polite, well-mannered and caring individuals?

Do they have goals and aspirations?

Do they have emotional intelligence?

Are they able to be part of a society with people who are from different cultural, social or economic backgrounds?

Can they be empathetic towards others?

All of these things are as important, if not more so, as achieving the government’s expectations for English and maths at the end of KS2.

Lindsey Nelson

Lindsey is an academic empowerment coach who specialises in helping children leverage their curiosity to learn more about maths, science, and engineering. You can find out more about Lindsey at Opportunity Unlocked.

Primary schools should help kids feel great about how they wonder, explore, play, and ask questions.

Primary school lays the foundation for learning. Once the foundation is poured, it’s rather set.

Kids at school want to learn, and it’s important to hold space for them to do some serious discovery of themselves, others, and their world.

Mark Warner

Mark is an experienced primary teacher and has been sharing teaching ideas and resources online since 1998. He runs two teacher resources sites: Teaching Ideas  and Teaching Packs.

The most important thing Primary schools can do is to give children a wide range of opportunities and experiences.

School shouldn’t just be about achieving a particular level in English and Maths (despite what the politicians say).

Children should be given chances to take part in lots of different subjects, topics and activities in a variety of situations (inside and outside of the classroom and on educational visits).

By trying new things, children can discover their likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses and ways to improve.

How about you?  What do you think’s the most important thing a Primary school can do for a child?  Leave your comments below!