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Book of the week

TRANSFER FROM THE PRIMARY CLASSROOM: 20 Years On. By Linda Hargreaves and Maurice Galton. Routledge. Falmer. pound;19.99

Secondary teachers are rigorous ascetics, noted for saying:

"This is an English lesson. You're not here to talk." Primary teachers are jolly hedonists, noted for saying: "Good answer, Jason! Nearly right, too!"

True? No, it's rubbish - but anyone in the profession will recognise these stereotypes. Teachers are so polite to each other, and so keen to show a united face, that few outside the system would guess how wide is the culture gap between the worlds of primary and secondary education.

Hargreaves and Galton first looked at primary-to-secondary transfer 20 years ago in Moving from the Primary Classroom, based on the Oracle (Observational Research and Classroom Learning Evaluation) project, which followed children through the latter years of primary school and the first year of secondary. The current volume arises from a repeat study, by the original authors and others who are credited, in which the same schools were revisited.

The current preface recalls that: "Twenty years ago the move from primary school resulted in a decline in pupils' attitudes and a hiatus in progress." Has this changed? Well, not much. What this book shows - and it's a fascinating read, with real lessons for all who are interested in transfer issues - is that the culture gap is still alive and well. The authors put their finger on it in their description of a curriculum continuity meeting at which primary and secondary maths and science teachers discovered that their ideas of what constituted an investigative task were very different. The secondary head of maths took one look at some primary children's work and, the authors state, "pronounced the examples 'unmarkable' ". (Because the decision-making process, and the conclusions, were not properly recorded, a requirement not so high on the primary agenda as the process of investigation itself.) The children, say the authors, have to jump the same chasm. Although the system of induction days and preliminary visits is better now, children can still meet the secondary head whose greeting is quoted in the book: "As far as I'm concerned, you come to school to learn. It's not a fun factory. It's not a holiday camp."

However, in the vital area of curriculum continuity, the divide is there. The national curriculum - and consequent pressures on the primary sector to produce measured results in formal style - has made the Year 6 classroom experience much closer to what children will find in "big school". But the effect of this, on the evidence of this study, has been to dent the motivation of more able pupils who are disappointed at not meeting in Year 7 the intellectual challenge they expected. On top of that, secondary school teachers are firm believers in the "fresh start" and in trying not to be too influenced by transfer data.

As the book states, it would be foolish to assume that teachers in either phase are complacent about the appropriateness of their own methods, or of the challenges of transfer. They are working hard to do something about it. But it's not only a local phenomenon. The book quotes research that shows schools in the United States face similar issues.

The problems, say the authors, are to do with the way schools at different phases are organised, and with the rigidity imposed by the national curriculum. Their conclusion is that improvement will require changes to the system that go beyond school-based initiatives, and that "We owe it the pupils who have yet to make the move to secondary school to undertake these reforms."


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