Black spot for promising pupils

The dip in achievement when children reach secondary school is nothing new.

Successive studies have shown pupils regressing, with secondary schools taking little account of what pupils already know. Research commissioned before the key stage 3 strategy was introduced revealed that almost four out of ten pupils failed to make any progress in maths, use of language or reading during year 7. Alarmingly, the same study showed that the percentage of pupils concentrating fully in lessons actually fell; 60 to 70 per cent were deemed to be "on task" during the final year of primary school, but a year later this had dropped by 5 per cent in English, 12 per cent in maths and a huge 26 per cent in science.

In 2002 inspectors reported that there was more unsatisfactory teaching in Year 7 than Year 8; they pointed out a clear link between mediocre teaching and the poor behaviour and lack of interest of some pupils. One of the main reasons was the lack of continuity between primary and secondary schools.

Some secondary heads have blamed the regression on what they consider to be artificially high levels of attainment at key stage 2, the result of high-pressure cramming for the Year 6 tests. Others have questioned the relevance of the apparent decline in the light of ever-improving GCSE results.

Professor Maurice Galton of Cambridge University, one of the key researchers in the field, thinks that the regression may be a hiatus, rather than a decline. He is more concerned about declining motivation in this age group.

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