Primary and secondary: how to build a relationship

There's so much that primary and secondary teachers can learn from each other, if only they would collaborate, says Zoe Enser

Zoe Enser

Primary and secondary: how to build a relationship

In education, we are all one team. Whether you are an early years teacher or working in teacher education, we all have one core aim: to improve the learning and opportunities for the young people in our care.

The reality, of course, is more complex. Different contextual factors, priorities for learning and external pressures can make it difficult to find common ground. But it is important we create opportunities to collaborate and learn from one another, especially in primary and secondary education.

If we want to ensure young people don’t fall off the metaphorical cliff edge but stride seamlessly across the gap, we need to consider how we might create sustainable and practical ways to collaborate. So, where can we start?

1. The curriculum

The national curriculum has been discussed a lot in recent years and, while it is still a benchmark, there is a great deal of variation between schools. Ideally, primary and secondary teachers would come together to see where the gaps are and ensure pupils are fully prepared for their next steps.

However, on a practical level, this might not be possible, especially if there are a lot of different primary and secondary schools in your area. To make sure collaboration still happens, you could make the most of technology and use shared spreadsheets to collate information about texts and topics that have been covered.  

While we can glean some information from websites or ask pupils about what they’ve covered, this kind of sharing opens the doorway for a more detailed dialogue, as primary and secondary colleagues can see the shape of the curriculum being studied.

Having these discussions while exploring students’ work can be even more powerful: collaborating with writing moderation, or co-designing a task to explore together, can result in a shared version of what pupils can do and where you want them to go next.


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2. Devolve the responsibility

Often in secondary schools, there will be one member of staff who is responsible for transition – or sometimes, there may be special educational needs and disability coordinators working together cross-phase. If we really want to improve on this work, we should look to expand the responsibility.

Having a named member of staff in each of the different subject areas can be a practical and more sustainable way to begin more meaningful collaboration. Informal subject groups, involving multiple schools, where ideas come together – again, making use of remote working practices – may reduce some of the pressure. For example, an email group for history with 15 primaries and three secondaries occasionally sharing information should not be too unwieldy for those who want to be involved.

3. Share to build

Some teachers in secondary – for example scientists, linguists and geographers – deliver specialist aspects of their subject in primary schools. However, primary specialists can be just as useful to secondary schools in the teaching of spelling, handwriting and vocabulary.

Equally, there may be certain parts of teaching and learning that both primary and secondary schools are looking to improve. For example, developing the use of retrieval practice or modelling will look different at different stages – but there is much to learn and reflect on, which could enrich both approaches. Again, this where remote practices can be a big help: if instructional phases of lessons or short continuing professional development (CPD) sessions have been recorded by staff, they could provide a bank of useful resources for collaborative working and sharing.

4. Open your doors

Primary pupils (and teachers) often come into secondary schools to use sports facilities or science labs, and while this may be a practical necessity, it’s rare for the opposite to happen.

When I first went into education, I worked as a teaching assistant, and part of the work included visiting pupils in their primary contexts. I learnt a lot about the primary environment, approaches used and encountered a range of teachers, forming relationships with them on which to build later discussion.

In another school I worked in, a group of students from Year 8 went into primary schools to read with children once a term. This meant our teachers were able to see primary teachers in action and have conversations about their strategies. Even the simplest routines with younger children will be managed differently, so observing this can be a real eye-opener.

We also need to consider where some of our CPD events take place. Most primaries will still have all the usual halls and projectors required, so why not relocate your staff there for a session? Aligning Inset days between feeders and secondaries, even if it is once a year, can also be an excellent opportunity to develop the dialogue between the phases as they work on common themes or ideas.

Equally, inviting people to come along when you are holding an evening or weekend event, such as a production or open evening, can be a great way to break down any barriers and start those enriching conversations.

5. Be sensitive 

Of course, some of these approaches will still present logistical issues, which I don’t wish to underplay; it is not always easy to collate information or find time to sit together to discuss pupils’ work. We are all incredibly busy people. But there is much to gain if we can start to find ways to navigate these obstacles.

It is also worth being sensitive around contextual issues. An invitation to collaborate right in the middle of exams season, or when there is a round of parents’ evenings to contend with, might not be an offer well received – however well intended – and could reinforce the belief that there’s no understanding about the pressures others are dealing with.

But, if we can enter into a productive dialogue, it can only benefit us as professionals and the pupils who we serve. There is always more to learn.

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Zoe Enser

Zoe Enser is lead English adviser for Kent. She tweets @greeborunner

Find me on Twitter @greeborunner

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