Back to School: From friendly pool to bewildering ocean - How to lessen the trauma of moving from the primary to the secondary sector

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The Independent Online
THE MOVE from primary to secondary school is a difficult stage for many children. From being big fish in a small, friendly pool they become minnows in a large, bewildering, new environment.

'As children come to the end their primary schooling they show signs that they have outgrown it, but this is often a cover for some of the more complicated feelings they have about going on to a bigger school,' says Andrew Flack, senior schools adviser in Milton Keynes. 'It is very important for them that links are built between primary and secondary schools to smooth the transition.'

Over the past 15 years schools have evolved many such links. It is now commonplace for year six primary pupils to spend a morning looking round their chosen secondary, meeting teachers and pupils and trying out the facilities.

Secondary teachers in many areas have built informal ties with their primary colleagues and will consult over children's needs and achievements. And the more go-ahead local authorities have organised schools into 'pyramids', each comprising one secondary school and several feeder primaries, whose teachers meet to exchange information and devise schemes to ease transfer.

But achieving continuity in the curriculum is harder. Dr Brian Gorwood, senior lecturer in education at Hull University and a specialist in transfer between schools, said: 'There's a tendency in the secondary sector for teachers to work to a lowest common denominator and pupils who've already achieved something tend to go back a stage or two when they enter secondary school.'

There is considerable variation between primary schools in the curriculum and in record-keeping. With the advent of the National Curriculum, however, this obstacle is set to disappear. The National Curriculum is not only bringing greater standardisation into what children have done but it will also provide statements of attainment, teachers' assessments and Standard Assessment Task scores in the core subjects of English, maths and science.

Dr Gorwood said that the key to getting a better fit between year seven teaching and individual children's actual levels of attainment was to have 'transfer documents that use some sort of extremely-well run coding system based on the National Curriculum'.

Because of the phased introduction of the National Curriculum, in which key stage three (ages 11 to 14), preceded key stage two (ages seven to 11), the full information it offers on core subjects will not be available until 1994, but in some authorities systems are already in place for using this information to plan secondary teaching.

In Croydon, south London, education advisers have developed special transfer records for primary children which will include a report by their teacher; a list of topics they have covered in each subject; attainment targets reached at each level in English, maths, science and technology and the pupil's own assessment of him or herself. The records are available to parents who are also invited to add their comments.

Pyramids of schools meet regularly to plan and review their use of the records. 'Liaison is now much more successfully focusing on the curriculum rather than just on the social side or transfer,' said Roseanne Simpson, Croydon's primary inspector.

Many areas of Britain use middle school systems in which children transfer at eight or nine and 12 or 13 rather than at 11. Because these transfers are in the middle of key stages of the National Curriculum, more co-ordination is needed between schools.

Many middle schools collect children's year seven work into a portfolio, which is taken by pupils to their high school to show their new teachers what they have done.

And first and middle schools often co-ordinate cross-curricular work in the arts and develop it into joint performances mounted at the middle school, intended to provide a fun introduction to their new school for primary children.

In Northumberland, an authority that is very keen on topic-based learning, local pyramids of first and middle schools completely unpick the subject-based attainment targets of the National Curriculum and reassemble them into cross-curricular topics to suit their local needs. Children at all the first schools in a locality cover the same topics and avoid repeating them at higher levels.