No more fear factor

Susan MacDonald

That step up to big school is daunting - and a reason why performance drops off. Susan MacDonald finds out what is being done to counter both

It seems like common sense that children should be helped to feel good rather than fearful when taking the giant step from being seniors in a junior school to being juniors in a senior school. Common sense maybe, but it was only in 2001 that the Department for Education and Skills introduced an idea for raising attainment and countering the dip in learning suffered by many Year 7 and 8 pupils. A maths and English scheme for local education authorities was sent out nationwide in 2004, although the biggest take-up was among London schools. The transition strategy is designed to create consistency: Year 6 children complete booklets detailing their achievements to show their new Year 7 teachers. Research has shown that they are proving very popular.

Steve Foxhall, head of Year 7 at Bexley grammar school and a specialist in transition, says that the booklets let secondary teachers get the measure of children's strengths "During last summer I went round 23 primary feeders to collect them," he says. "We are a selective school, specialising in design, technology and science, so have a minimum level of ability but there is still a variance. We do not, as yet, hold cross-school teachers'

meetings but we do have funding for primary teachers and their classes to sit in on our classes. We have invested in one of those 5060-seat coaches, so transport is easy."

However, a Cambridge research team has been critical of the DfESapproach.

Its recent report* suggests that, while progress has been made on transition, an emphasis on the teaching side of the strategy is having a detrimental effect on the children they are trying to help.

Professor Maurice Galton, one of the leaders of the research team, says:

"Children's attitudes towards maths and science continue to decline, especially among more able children. Also there is increasing concern among KS3 teachers about discipline, caused in part by the demotivating aspects of the KS3 curriculum. This follows the experience of the final year in primary school when much time is spent on revision for the national tests."

Joy Garvey, a Year 6 teacher at Tolworth junior school in Kingston-upon-Thames, and Meena Rai, a Year 7 maths teacher and post-16 maths co-ordinator at Tolworth school for girls, are so enthusiastic about the DfES transition scheme that they have been designated by their schools to liaise not only across their two schools but also in organising transition training courses for teachers borough wide. "It has been a surprise for some secondary teachers to see how high the level of many primary children is," says Ms Garvey.

"Our authority has been particularly good in organising meetings for primary and secondary teachers, and we have also set up demonstration lessons, following KS3 guidelines, with Year 7 teachers sitting in on Year 6 lessons and vice versa."

She drew up her school's own transition booklet in 2003, and that gave them a head start when the school joined the DfES scheme a year later. "All but one primary school in the borough are using the booklets and the children feel very positive about them. Even low attainers want to show what they can do. But some secondary schools say they are having problems fitting the transition lessons into the schemes of work they are already doing, and the problems of the booklets' distribution are massive," she says.

"There have been teething problems - I think the booklets do need toning down for less able children. They are pitched at showing off skills, and information on whether low attainers had help with their answers or not should be included to help Year 7 teachers, who don't know these children as well as we do. However, in general the DfES is going about it in the right way."

*The Impact of Transition and Transfer on Pupils' Progress and Attainment by Maurice Galton, John Grey and Jean

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Susan MacDonald

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