Dear teacher

29th April 2005 at 01:00
Daniel Tabor describes a successful way of improving pupils' progress at transition

It's that time of year again, when primary and secondary teachers, looking beyond Sats at key stages 2 and 3, think about how to renew or strengthen primarysecondary links. Most colleagues have limited time for improving curriculum continuity, so what are the practical steps that teachers and pupils can take to make the move to the secondary school challenging, and at the same time an experience that builds on and recognises pupils'

achievements in Year 6?

There is no shortage of glossy government ring-binders with advice about transition units, examples of good practice, and exhortations to secondary teachers to make use of KS2 data in planning lessons at the start of Year 7 (though how exactly this data should be used is often left rather vague).

In spite of many years of the national curriculum, and the more recent introduction of the literacy and numeracy strategies, improving curriculum continuity and progression at primarysecondary transition remains problematic for many schools. The Year 7 "dip" continues to be an issue.

Why is this? We can identify a number of problems that stubbornly refuse to go away.

Though secondary teachers have much more respect for the skills of primary colleagues than might have been the case 10 years ago (mainly a result of increased cross-phase visits to each other's classrooms), there still remains a distrust of primary assessments at KS2, both in terms of teacher assessment and the test results. Many English teachers will say of a Year 7 student: "She got a level 5 in the KS2 tests, but she is not level 5!"

This can create difficult situations with parents when the first interim assessments in Year 7 are sent home, and the Year 7 dip becomes an issue again.

The way progression is conceptualised within and between KS2 and 3 is itself problematic. For the government and its army of advisers and inspectors there is no real problem. However, as Dylan Wiliam points out in Level Best? Levels of Attainment in National Curriculum Assessment (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) , using the same ladder of levels across different key stages with their different programmes of study is a bit like comparing a C grade at GCSE with the same grade at A-level. It's not surprising that assessing progression between key stages remains difficult.

Transition units are one way of enabling secondary schools to build on the achievements of pupils at the end of Year 6. In reality, these units are not suitable for all schools and where one secondary school (for example, in an inner-city area) receives pupils from dozens of primary schools, organising transition units is difficult and costly in terms of time for both primary and secondary colleagues. So what are the other options?

My own experience as an English teacher is to start by keeping things simple. In Daventry, we have two 11 to 16 schools and a tertiary college, which work together within the Daventry Learning Partnership. In April 2004, an initial meeting was held with the heads of department in the core curriculum subjects from both secondary schools and the KS2 co-ordinators from the primary schools. The KS2 and 3 consultants from Northampton Advisory and Inspection Service were also involved. At the end of the first meeting there was a true spirit of collaboration, and a shared desire to work together to improve pupils' progress at transition.

We held a follow-up meeting of the Englishliteracy group and decided that the top priority was to devise a manageable, yet effective, approach to transition within English. The most realistic proposal was for Year 6 pupils to write a letter to their secondary school, including an example of their favourite piece of work and one or two literacy targets which the pupils had agreed with their teacher at the end of Year 6.

We devised a writing frame for the letter, and most of the pupils in Year 6 wrote to their new English teacher; the letters were sent to the secondary schools at the end of the summer term. When the new pupils had their first English lesson at the start of Year 7, their teacher had already read the letters and was able to discuss them with the class. The letters provided a more nuanced picture of where pupils were at in English at the end of Year 6 than a KS2 test level. The examples of favourite work and targets from Year 6 also provided markers for assessing pupils' progress in English during their first half term in Year 7. The pupils then wrote a letter back to their Year 6 teacher about their experiences of English (and other subjects) at the secondary school.

At the follow-up meeting in November we agreed that the letter writing had been successful, relatively easy to organise, and that it had taken place at the right time of the academic year. Secondary English teachers were pleased with the outcome, and felt that it had helped them to get to know new pupils fairly quickly.

We will have our next meeting in May to discuss further ways of working together. Perhaps the greatest benefit is that a dialogue has been started between primary and secondary teachers. Who knows where it will take us.

Daniel Tabor is head of English at Daventry William Parker School. His book Young Writers at Transition (RoutledgeFalmer pound;19.99) contains ideas for improving continuity and progression in pupils' writing at transition

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