Bridges to assist a difficult crossing;Opinion

12th March 1999 at 00:00
research shows that in transferring from primary to secondary school many pupils lose momentum - or even regress educationally. For too long we have assumed this is inevitable, but now there are schools showing the way ahead.

Maurice Galton, John Gray and Jean Rudduck, in a study for the Department for Education and Employment (TES, November 20, 1998) describe five bridges schools can build across the gulf.

They are: the bureaucratic bridge; the social bridge; the curriculum bridge; the pedagogic bridge, and the management-of-learning bridge.

The researchers found that the bureaucratic bridge was in place in most schools. Senior staff from the secondary and primary schools were in dialogue, at least at head-of-year and headteacher level.

The social bridge was generally in place too. Pupils were invited to induction days at the school to which they were to transfer and some were offered special visits, related to drama or sport, for example.

Only a relatively small proportion of schools were pioneering the building of the other three bridges. The curriculum bridge was more or less in place in only about a third of schools. The pedagogic bridge was only to be found in one school in 20, and a bridge which focused on how pupils should manage their learning in just one school in 50.

No wonder, then, that not enough pupils cross the river successfully. We need to think how we can put all five bridges in place. A number of government proposals are now moving us in the right direction.

Building on work done in the past year or so, improvements are being made to the process of transferring records from school to school.

Increasingly, initiatives are explained to parents as well as teachers - a development which will be especially powerful at the point of transfer. Through our literacy strategy, for example, parents have received a leaflet explaining what their children are expected to learn in the literacy hour and how they can help. From September, Home-School Agreements will extend the notion of partnership.

As the information technology network is extended, it too will play a powerful part in ensuring that information is shared. To give one example, a small apparently bureaucratic reform in 2000-01 will have profound implications for the future. We will introduce a unique number for each pupil. This will enable the tracking of pupils' performance as they move between schools and make value-added analyses based on individual pupil data possible throughout the system.

These changes will strengthen all the bridges but not do enough to improve communication on pedagogic and management-of-learning issues.

The Government is, however, beginning to address them too. This summer, as part of the national literacy strategy, there will be training for secondary schools in its implications so that they can build on it.

Furthermore, three policies which will have direct impact on pupils will come together for the first time this year. From March to the tests in May, schools have additional money to provide booster classes, especially aimed at those who need extra help to get level 4. After the summer term ends, more than 1,000 secondary schools will provide summer literacy andor numeracy programmes for pupils who are due to join them in September.

These summer school programmes have been piloted over the past two years. We were told no one would want to attend. In fact, pupils have been turned away. We were told they wouldn't stay. In fact attendance rates match those in term time.

This year, though, for the first time, the secondary schools will show how their summer school is integrated into their 11-14 curriculum; they will be able to continue the drive to help pupils catch up where necessary in the first year of secondary school. In other words, a new framework to improve transition is beginning to emerge. It is the beginning of building the three missing bridges for curriculum, pedagogy and management of learning.

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