Big school fears banished

BETTER reading and writing and improved maths scores, attendance and behaviour have all flowed from the deployment of primary-secondary co-ordinators in South Lanarkshire, Maggi Allan, the council's education director, told the launch of the national statements on literacy and numeracy in the capital on Tuesday.

As Cathy Jamieson, Education Minister, underlined the importance of greater collaborative working between primary and secondary and raising standards in S1 and S2, an independent report for the authority has underlined the value of the new posts which will eventually be extended to all schools in South Lanarkshire as part of the new community schools initiative.

The co-ordinators have been working in clusters, focusing on basic standards between P6 and S2 and are said to have been almost unanimously successful in helping to tackle key transition difficulties that have dogged pupils and schools. Other initiatives have contributed but the co-ordinators have been vital in developing resources and pushing best practice.

A report by Professor Jim McCall of Strathclyde University shows that average national test results in reading in some schools were below 40 per cent and are now 68 per cent. Other teachers say the stress on writing has made an impact on test results, while another school reports a significant rise in maths achievement. Attendance was better, there were fewer behaviour problems and fewer exclusions.

Co-ordinators worked with teachers to lessen the "stereotypical beliefs about activity in each sector". They improved the curricular links "with a lessening of the mismatch or standstill effect regularly reported by HMI when pupils enter S1 from primary schools", Professor McCall says.

The transfer of information from primary to secondary was improved and pupils were impressed because they felt they had "somebody you know" in secondary and a "useful person". Pupils who took part reported that they had fewer fears before, during and after transfer than those who had not been involved with the co-ordinators.

The review highlights the co-ordinators' role in identifying children who might be at risk when they make the transfer from primary to secondary and says that action can be taken.

"A number of secondary schools suggested that there was, at the very least, anecdotal evidence that the number of reported behaviour problems in S1, and exclusions, had decreased over the period of the initiative," Professor McCall states.

Co-ordinators also helped to allay secondaries' doubts about national test results from some primaries.

ONE-STOP GUIDE TO THE BASICS

There will be no "overly mechanistic test-based approach" to 5-14 attainment, Cathy Jamieson, Education Minister, re-emphasised this week in announcing revamped national statements on literacy and numeracy and the appointment of two development officers to promote improved practice across local authorities.

Ms Jamieson, however, repeated that teachers would soon be able to draw on a single, coherent bank of assessment materials. A single system of record-keeping, based on personal learning plans, would simplify reports to parents.

Ms Jamieson described the statements as a "one-stop shop reference guide" and said that they would encourage a whole-school approach to raising attainment in the basics.

The two development officers, one each for literacy and numeracy, will be based with Learning and Teaching Scotland. They will look at problems such as the disparity between boys and girls and difficulties with attainment in the first two years of secondary.

Joyce Gilmour, head of Ferryhill primary in Edinburgh, where the statements were unveiled, said one of the difficulties was sustaining progress from P1. Her school, where half the pupils are entitled to free meals, now sets in maths from P4 and has introduced more age-appropriate programmes and a fast-track reading course.

For other children in P2 struggling with basic literacy, there are one-to-one reading sessions with a part-time teacher over 10 weeks.

One boy came in after intensive coaching and read a book from cover to cover. He told the teacher: "Eh, I read that. Eh, I can read."

Mrs Gilmour said: "That's what it's all about. I would like to think we are an 'eh, I can' school."

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