10-14 comes back from the grave

28th March 2003 at 00:00
THE concerns about P6-S2 pupils do not go away. Two more critical reports have been published, this time about attainment in English language. We never hear good news about this age group, especially those in their first year of secondary education, but you would think there is a whiff of desperation about our masters when we hear that they are searching for a solution in an old, discarded report.

Or perhaps not. When the document in question is Education 10-14, remembered by many as the best attempt to address the problems of the transfer years, things might be looking up. It was published in 1986 and buried with indecent haste, not because of a lack of quality, but because the Scottish Office took cold feet at the estimated cost.

Already there were concerns about the forgotten years between P6 and S2.

For this age group, the heady days of mastering basic skills in infant classes were far behind and the exam years still in the future. Powerful infant mistresses ensured that infant methods and young pupils were the only game in primary schools and Munn and Dunning were the exam double act in secondaries.

The report has an old-fashioned feel to it with its numbered paragraphs and absence of modern educational jargon. No mention of "attainment", "inclusion" or "target" here. Read beyond the lines and the thinking is up to date.

Primary and secondary schools have worked hard at the transfer procedure.

The passing of information and communicating with parents and children have improved greatly, although that is the easy part. Most children enjoy their move to S1. New friends, new teachers, better facilities and more freedom should be a recipe for success but the system is not good at harnessing enthusiasm and interest just when they are at their peak. The big obstacle is with learning and teaching where sharp differences between the sectors are so deeply embedded that productive change is difficult.

The culprits are well known. The inflexible timetable chops learning into blocks which are either too short or too long. A dozen or more teachers may bring variety but they also bring variations of expectation, pace and behaviour and the youngest - and exam free - year group can be saddled with a disproportionate number of inexperienced or weaker teachers.

And secondary schools don't have it easy. They cannot be confident in the prior learning of S1 pupils if their associated primaries lack consistency in their standards.

Judith Sischy, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, fingered the main problem when she told The TES Scotland two weeks ago: "In our experience, when secondary teachers are in the 10-14 age range they know their specialism, but their methodology is all wrong."

We have suspected for some time that we do our children a disservice by rigidly separating their teachers into primary and secondary. Why not have a 10-14 teacher? This would permit the gradual change which extends children's learning rather than the abrupt and confusing change which leaves many children stranded. Educating for Excellence, the response to the national education debate, proposes that teachers work across primary and secondary schools. The 10-14 report got there in 1986, acknowledging the need for teachers with "middle-school skills, attitudes and insights".

Its suggestions about how this might be achieved will make engrossing reading for the Education Minister before she implements her promise and creates teachers to bridge the divide. It's the only way forward in improving the P7-S1 experience.

The late David Robertson chaired the 10-14 committee and was our director in Tayside. Her Majesty gave him a gong as consolation for the report's swift burial but I hope he is looking down and enjoying the greater satisfaction of seeing his committee's work rediscovered, two decades on.

Brian Toner is headteacher of St John's primary in Perth.

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