Changing school at 11 halts progress

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The Independent Online
THE PERFORMANCE in English and maths of almost two in five children deteriorates in their first year at secondary school, a new government study has revealed.

As 600,000 11-year-olds move school, the report says that too many secondary teachers still believe they have to start from scratch with new pupils. They bore pupils by going over work they have already done or fail to help them the more mature learning style that is wanted compared with junior school.

In maths, pupils who have scored the highest marks in national tests at 11 are given work suited for below-average pupils. In English, pupils who can barely read are plunged into discussions on the merits of the classics. Those most at risk are the slowest pupils and highly able ones, particularly boys, who may be switched off learning for good.

Researchers from Homerton College, Cambridge, reviewed 20 years of research on the difficulties caused by changing schools. They also tested 300 pupils at the beginning of the year they started secondary school and again at the end. In English language 42 per cent of pupils did less well a year after the change. In reading, the figure was 38 per cent and in maths 34 per cent. The figures are supported by another study carried out by Suffolk local education authority.

Its authors, Maurice Galton, John Gray and Jean Ruddock, say that "links between primary and secondary schools are much better than they were 20 years ago and starting secondary school has become less stressful. Some pupils have difficulty coping with a new environment, a variety of teachers and a wider range of subjects, but schools need to devote more attention to pupils' academic progress and less to their social adjustment. Secondary teachers underestimate the demands primary teachers make on pupils ... or make assumptions about the exposure of pupils to more sophisticated forms of learning."

In science, for example, one lesson consisted of filtering dirty water, which took five minutes, followed by 35 minutes taken up with copying a diagram and description of the experiment from the blackboard.

The researchers also looked at the effect of changing year groups and found that pupils' progress also suffered between the ages of eight and nine and during their second year in secondary school. Changing from infant to junior school may also halt progress.

Pupils in secondary schools, they say, often see the years between national tests as less important and start "messing around". The report says: "Some pupils are more at risk than others of losing ground at these critical moments in their school careers; in the process the seeds of social exclusion may be planted."

It recommends better use of IT, for example video- conferencing secondary les-sons for primary pupils, and to keep track of pupils as they move through the system.

The Education minister Jacqui Smith said government curriculum advisers were piloting a scheme to allow pupils to start a piece of work in the last year at primary school and complete it in the first year at secondary school. "Schools need to make sure that children's academic work does not suffer," she said.