Against the odds

10th March 2006 at 00:00
Gerald Haigh talks to an award-winning small Scottish primary to find out the secret behind its success in the Maths in Motion Challenge

When the 80-pupil Springholm Primary school won the top award in a major ICT-based national competition last summer, against the combined might of a gaggle of academies, high schools, specialist colleges and the like, it made you realise that ICT is one of those subjects that just doesn't respect the notion of big kids being better at stuff than little ones.

Springholm's success was in the Maths in Motion Challenge run by Cambridge Software, based on its Cars software. The final was sponsored by Jaguar Cars and held at its Birmingham plant just before the last summer holidays.

Teams of children use the software to solve a range of mathematical problems around a motor racing simulation, co-operating to make decisions based on a range of variables - weather conditions, track characteristics, driver skill, fuel load and so on.

Always, when the outsider comes in first, you want to know a bit about the stable and the trainer. In this case we're looking at a village primary school in South West Scotland - just North of Castle Douglas in the Dumfries and Galloway region. The story at Springholm is of a highly experienced headteacher determined to ensure that her school and her children won't be left behind by ICT. In her 14th year as Springholm's head, and her 40th since she started teaching, Lynda Mackie is the typical small school energetic multi-tasker. "We converted a cloakroom into a computer suite," she explains. "And moved a radiator so we could put a SMART Board on the wall of the facing corridor."

Now ICT is well embedded across the curriculum. Eleven children at a time use the computer suite, teachers and classroom assistants working together to cover split classes.

Lynda has a range of projects in hand, not least next year's Maths in Motion competition. "At the moment it's running as an after-school club,"

she says. "Then I'll extend it into class time. I don't want to pick a select team; I want to include everyone who's interested."

Lynda's also keen on developing the children's interest in digital imaging.

"I think it would be an awfully good idea for Primary Seven (the last year of primary) to spend the year before High School making a computer video diary covering their time at school and at home, and taking it through to their new school," she says. "It could be printed as hard copy or kept on disc."

She's already doing some early experiments in this direction, the Primary Six children working with the help of a specialist teacher from the regional authority. "Today they've been learning how to take photos of each other," she reports, "choosing whether to take them in black and white, sepia or colour, and how to put them into a document with some accompanying text."

The intention is to continue that kind of preparatory work until the next school year, so the same children will then be able to embark on the full digital diary of their final year.

However, funding is going to be an issue for this project. Lynda could do with more cameras, including video, and perhaps some supporting software.

Bidding for funds, though, is time consuming and distracting for a small school head who does a lot of teaching.

"It's such a pain in the neck," she says. "But being head of a small school is all about having ideas and broadening experience, and they all cost money and time."

Unsurprisingly, given that she started teaching in 1966, the "R" word came up. "As long as I think I'm being successful I'll continue," she says. "In any case, I'm taking some children on an adventure expedition in the autumn, so I have to stay till then anyway!"

* Maths in Motion Challenge Details of the 2006 - Maths in Motion Challenge can be found at

Cars - Maths in Motion Details of the Cambridge Software house's programme can be found at http:home.btconnect.comcambs-softwareMIM.htm

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