The barriers come down

13th February 2004 at 00:00
Primary teachers working with S1 and S2 pupils could become the norm rather than the exception from next year. Raymond Ross reports

The First Minister Jack McConnell's disclosure in December that primary teachers would be employed to help pupils under-achieving in secondary maths and English rang alarm bells around the country.

Questions were asked about primary teachers' levels of qualifications. Fears were raised about them being used to fill vacant secondary posts and secondary teachers' status being threatened. And accusations were made that the move was a quick political fix.

"Ministers see the move as a solution to tackle the dip in attainment in S1 and S2," says a Scottish Executive spokesman. "It could help any of the pupils, but would probably be aimed at the low attaining group."

Finance for the initiative has yet to be worked out and there are no set rules as to how primary teachers would be used. It is likely that most posts would be part-time, a few days a week. At present there are no plans for full-time appointments in the secondary sector.

Continuing professional development would "probably have to be undertaken while the primary teachers are in post rather than having to wait to qualify," the spokesman says.

Despite the concerns - mainly from secondary teachers - there are educationists, local authorities and secondary schools with experience of primary teacher input who welcome the change in principle.

Brian Boyd, a reader in education at Strathclyde University, says: "There may be problems for the General Teaching Council for Scotland and the unions, but these problems have to be overcome.

"I'm absolutely positive about the change. It's about breaking down barriers, about continuity, coherence and progression, all of which have been sadly lacking in primary-secondary transition.

"We should really look at 10-14 as an area in its own right, while 10-14 teachers should look at each other as equals. Why not have teams of teachers moving across the primary-secondary sectors?

"We have to get away from the old division of the generalist and the specialist. We are all teachers. We should be looking at the similarities, not the differences, looking at how children learn."

Although it is planned that the Schools (Scotland) Code, which generally prevents primary staff from teaching secondary pupils, is changed to help tackle attainment in maths and English and to cut sizes in S1 and S2, the Executive's spokesman says primary staff would be able to teach other subjects as well. "It's up to each council to decide."

Brian Boyd welcomes this and would like to see primary teachers helping in areas such as science and modern languages. "It's right that the initiative shouldn't stop with literacy and numeracy and includes specialists," he says.

Glasgow's depute education director, George Gardner, agrees. The council already has primary teachers giving support for learning in lower secondary as part of its new learning communities initiative. There are two primary teachers at Eastbank Academy and one at Knightswood Secondary.

Mr Gardner believes more primary teachers in secondaries will help to bridge the transition years. "It will take time for models to emerge and the benefits to be recognised," he says, "but I do believe that by the end of the decade we will see quite a significant difference in the way P6-S2 is taught in terms of the numbers and kinds of teachers.

"We have to demonstrate that there is added value in bringing primary teachers into secondaries, that this will bring improvements in attainment.

My belief is that we can," he says.

Like Dr Boyd, Mr Gardner is keen that primary specialists are encouraged to go into secondary schools, and vice versa.

"We have around 100 primary teachers accredited to teach science as a specialism and I would hope they could do CPD for teaching in secondaries," he says. "It makes sense they should be able to learn on the job."

He believes teacher training colleges should now be building elements into courses to cater for this change and it should start to be reflected in both teaching practice and probationer placements as soon as possible.

"But the way primary teachers are used should not be centrally prescribed," he says. "It should be about local ownership and the sharing of good practice across learning communities and authorities. That's more important than any diktat saying some percentage of primary teachers should be in secondaries by a certain date."

"We're looking for effective teachers, the best possible coming through.

It's about quality not just quantity."

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