Teachers fail to mind the transitional gap

Poor teaching is causing pupils to fall at primary-secondary hurdle. Helen Ward reports

PUPILS arriving at secondary school are being let down by teachers who underestimate their abilities, according to David Bell, chief inspector of schools.

Mr Bell, writing in this week's TES, warns that too many pupils slip behind when they start secondary school.

A report on transition arrangements in 32 primaries and 16 secondaries in eight local authorities by the Office for Standards in Education said pupils were more likely to encounter unsatisfactory teaching in their first months of secondary school than in their last primary year.

And Mr Bell adds that there is a clear link between unsatisfactory teaching, bored pupils and poor behaviour. He said that for children already disenchanted with school, the gap between primary and secondary school systems can be the trigger which leads them to drop out altogether.

The comprehensives "generally did not know in sufficient detail what their new pupils could do, and they had not set targets for improving attainment during Year 7."

Mr Bell highlights three areas that need improving:

* better information for secondaries about pupils' abilities and attitudes;

* more continuity between the Year 6 and Year 7 curriculums;

* dissemination of good practice by local authorities.

SHA general secretary John Dunford said: "I think secondary schools recognise that there is a job to be done here but their task is made more difficult by the teacher shortage which has a disproportionate effect on 11 to 14-year-old classes.

"Schools have detailed information about pupils, but it is difficult for teachers under pressure to find the time to use that information."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said: "The report demonstrates that there is still a hell of a lot to do to get primary-secondary liaison right. It seems to me to be a matter of great urgency. We have to get cracking and pick up the report's recommendations. It should not be beyond the ability of the Government working with headteachers to get it right."

The Government has already introduced measures to help ensure that pupils progress between 11 and 14. The key stage 3 strategy, launched last September, introduced primary-style literacy and numeracy lessons to secondary schools and booster classes for children who are falling behind.

Before the pilot was launched, a study by three Cambridge academics found that almost four out of 10 pupils failed to progress in maths, use of language or reading in their first secondary year.

The report by Maurice Galton, John Gray and Joan Ruddock, found the percentage of pupils concentrating on their work fell in English, maths and science.

Speaking at a press conference in London, Mr Bell said: "Moving to secondary school is a hugely important moment in children's lives in terms of their education and for their personal development. It is really important the move from primary to secondary is right.

"Most children adjust socially quite well to secondary school, but transition is about more than settling in socially, it is about making appropriate progress.

"What we are not suggesting is this is somehow the fault of secondary schools. This is a partneship between primary and secondary schools. Primary schools do have a responsibility to offer different kinds of teaching strategy as a way of making transition easier."

The report found that transfer arrangements for children with special educational needs were good with significant involvement from secondary staff.

David Bell, 19

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