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Mr Severy’s #teachereffect at St Mary’s School, Cambridge

Mr Severy’s #teachereffect at St Mary’s School, Cambridge

We want to spend this year celebrating some of our teaching staff who help make St Mary’s School, Cambridge such an inspiring place for girls to learn and flourish. We call it the #teachereffect.

Sadly, we can’t cover all our teaching staff; however, we will be showcasing several over this year in many diverse areas and from across the school, from our Junior School to our Sixth Form. We start our series with Mr Andrew Severy.

Mr Severy is the Computer Science Coordinator and a Peripatetic Instrumental Teacher at our Junior School. He is a passionate advocate for teaching girls, from a young age, Computer Science as well as an extremely talented musician.

Mr Severy led our Junior School students to several competition victories over the course of last year, firmly placing St Mary’s on the map as a leading centre for coding and STEM for girls. These included:

We spoke to Mr Severy to find out about his journey before arriving at St Mary’s, and what was the driving force behind his choice to go into teaching.

1 – When did you start at St Mary’s Junior School?

I started at St Mary’s School in September 2016

2 – What did you do before you joined?

I have been teaching for more than 20 years, including 14 years as Head of ICT and Network Manager at a large middle school (Years 5-8) in Suffolk.  Prior to that, I have worked in the music recording industry and for the Civil Service.

3 – Were you always interested in Computer Science? What fuelled that interest and why that subject?

I have been interested in Computer Science since my parents bought me my first home computer (a Commodore VIC-20!) for Christmas when I was about 10 years old.  I taught myself the Commodore Basic programming language from books and magazines, mainly so that I could create my own simple computer games.  However, I always seemed to miss out on Computing lessons at school, as classroom computers and ICT Suites were introduced at both my Primary and Secondary schools just as I was about to leave or had just left!  Despite this, I developed an interest in Music Technology whilst at university, which eventually broadened to include Computer Science in all its many forms.

4 – What have been your highlights of working at St Mary’s?

There have been so many highlights that it is difficult to single out just one.  Beyond Computer Science, I have been really lucky to have the opportunity to be involved with a huge variety of trips, extra-curricular events, music concerts and musical productions, including being Musical Director for our Year 5 & 6 production of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ in June.  I have also greatly enjoyed developing an integrated seven-year Computer Science Programme of Study to ensure progression across the school, culminating in our Year 5 & Year 6 teams’ involvement in the annual RoboCupJunior Robotics Competitions. 

If I was pushed to name an absolute highlight, it would have to be an absolutely amazing week in June 2019, when a St. Mary’s Year 6 team reached the Quarter Finals of the RoboCupJunior Euro 2019 Championships in Hannover, Germany (against students who were mostly 17 or 18 years old); another Year 6 team were crowned UK National Primary CoSpace Champions; and a Year 5 team became UK National Primary Line Tracking Champions!

5 – Why do you enjoy teaching?

The enthusiasm of the girls and their perseverance when they initially find things difficult, followed by their obvious sense of achievement when they do succeed, make all the hard work worthwhile.  There is also the reward of seeing the girls gaining in confidence and becoming more independent in their use of technology as a valuable tool for both learning and life in general.

6 – In your opinion what are the benefits of teaching STEM in an all-girls environment?

I have previously taught in co-educational state schools and I have never found gender to be a significant barrier to the teaching Computer Science (or other STEM subjects).  My time at St Mary’s Junior School, Cambridge further supports this as the girls instinctively have many of the skills required, and delight in using them. The girls are resilient and will persevere when things get difficult, they are meticulous in their attention to detail, are happy to work collaboratively, and there is no lack of competitive spirit when they are set a challenge!  By ensuring that the girls can see the real-world, and fun, applications of what they are learning, and that the atmosphere in the classroom is conducive to 'having a go' without fear of ridicule or failure, I strive to break down the stereotype that is unfortunately still far too prevalent in society as a whole, namely that girls are not really suited to STEM subjects.  

Our recent competition successes against often predominantly male teams would seem to prove that far from being at a disadvantage, given the right opportunities girls can excel in Computer Science and STEM subjects in general.  Bearing all of the above in mind, I think we should be extremely optimistic about the future for girls in technology-based careers. We just need to foster all that talent and enthusiasm at an early age and provide stimulating opportunities for the development of these essential 21st century skills.

7 – What do you like to do in your free time when you are not teaching?

I play the violin in the Suffolk Sinfonia and sing with a variety of choirs, as well as regularly playing in the ‘pit orchestra’ for full-scale musical productions at The Apex in Bury St. Edmunds.

8 – What advice do you have for all the students you have taught – past and present – to help them on their journey in life!

Wholeheartedly grasp every opportunity that you are offered, do everything as well as you possibly can, have confidence in your own abilities, and be ambitious in what you try to achieve.