Drumming up support

20th February 2009 at 00:00
An ambitious transition programme in Edinburgh has Primary 7 children spending more and more of their week in secondary

The proof is in the pudding, says Jon Reid, headteacher at Drummond Community High in Edinburgh, gesturing towards the folder sitting open on the table.

It is a typical folder seen in any headteacher's office, fat with pages of comment, plans and records. But this one has had Edinburgh City Council, Learning and Teaching Scotland and other headteachers sitting up and paying attention, for it is the record of one of Edinburgh's more interesting transition projects.

A year ago, Jon Reid approached his quality improvement officer in Edinburgh, Alison Kidd, to suggest the current transition programme at Drummond be extended.

"It was and is a good programme, but it was a little bitty `piecie'," he says. "I wanted something more strategic, less of a bolt-on, that encouraged collaborative planning and working, and fitted with A Curriculum for Excellence."

His idea was for an enhanced transition programme that would run for the whole session, bringing the primary children into their own unit within the community school for one day a week, building to two days by term two and possibly more for the final term.

Drummond has a roll of 500 and capacity for 600, so finding that extra classroom and playground space wasn't too difficult. But getting staff, the cluster schools, pupils and parents on board might have been. However, Mr Reid was delighted to find there was real support for the idea.

"People came to meetings in their spare time - and we held one during the summer holidays," he says.

Even the sixth year has got behind it, helping to deliver the curriculum and pastoral care. Since August 2008, a group has greeted the P7s every morning as they arrive and joined them in different classes. They also sit with them at break and lunch in a special designated area away from the rest of the school.

From the beginning, it was decided to run the project with just one of the three cluster primaries and have it evaluated every step of the way by one of Edinburgh's educational psychologists and a team at Edinburgh University.

Leith Walk Primary was chosen as the partner school. Like Drummond, it is an inner-city school with a very diverse catchment population, where 45 per cent of the intake has English as an additional language. According to the head, Stewart Crabb, they were chosen because they had already engaged fully with the development of A Curriculum for Excellence and were perhaps the least sceptical about the project. "And the team had been thinking a lot about planning for learning - a key element of the Drummond transition programme," adds Mrs Kidd.

Another factor was Leith Walk's strong emphasis on literacy. Edinburgh is currently testing the framework for A Curriculum for Excellence within each of its clusters, and all have a focused element. The Firhill cluster is looking at technologies, Currie at wider achievement, while Portobello, Boroughmuir and Drummond are focusing on literacy. From the early stages, Mr Reid was clear that the focus for the new transition programme would be literacy.

Leith Walk also had a teacher champing at the bit to explore active learning within A Curriculum for Excellence. Mary Murray had been to Australia, courtesy of LTS, to explore active learning and she was keen to introduce more of it at her school.

Lead for the project was put in her hands, but with collaborative working at its heart. "I am the children's teacher because I see them for the other 3.5 days of the week, but when they are at Drummond it is a shared approach," says Mrs Murray, who is using the project to support her chartered teacher application. "I thought at first I might feel a little out of it, but the team made me really welcome and are so enthusiastic about the project."

She chose to concentrate on persuasive writing for the first term, developing a thematic unit called "Stronger and Healthier", which centred on the storyline of an alien coming to Edinburgh. Teachers from food and consumer technology, personal and social education, PE, maths and English were recruited to help.

"It has been amazing continuing professional development for my staff to work with primary children and explore how active learning can enrich their experience," says Mr Reid.

Mrs Murray identified a series of outcomes she wanted the children to achieve, such as organising notes with headers in their own words; distinguishing fact from fiction, recognising when resources were designed to influence. She left it to the other teachers to come up with creative ways to pursue this. Even in PE, persuasive writing was central. When considering resources intended to influence, the PE teacher was able to guide pupils about unhealthy snacks, watching too much TV and being unfit.

Inevitably, such an intensive programme comes with a higher price tag. A large chunk of the cost of involving Drummond teaching staff directly has come from existing transition budgets. A Determined to Succeed award covered resources rather than staff.

"We had the existing transition time that we merely transferred over to this programme, so maths, languages, science and art contribute the same amount of time but in a more structured way," says Mr Reid. "Doing it this way is so much more time-efficient than sending a teacher down to the primary school."

Mr Reid conjured the rest of the time through creative timetabling. "We ran a 28-period timetable," he says. "But teachers' non-contact time was not exactly the 300 minutes they were supposed to get. It was 320 or 330 minutes, or less than 300 because they had to do cover. By moving to a 32- period timetable, we are able to give teachers their 300 minutes and create an extra 0.70.8 in time, without it really affecting them. The decision wasn't taken just because of the transition project, but it was a consideration."

The time was used initially for planning meetings, continuing professional development and then for delivering classes. Time has also been given over to considering what the S1 curriculum will look like next year. "This is such an exciting example of how a project can have a bigger impact if it is ambitious and creative," says Mrs Kidd.

"We have seen the development of these children increase beyond what we would expect. We want that to continue."

Mr Crabb gives examples. "The whole project is being evaluated but we can already see, anecdotally, that pupils have surpassed what they were forecast to achieve. This is based on where they were before the project began and comparing it to previous year groups.

He continues: "We've got pupils on level F for reading who wouldn't have been, but also we've seen those who are less able moving up the levels more quickly."

Mr Reid is keen to point out another consequence. Every child in P7 at Leith Walk, bar one, is transferring into S1 at Drummond.

This could be due to the programme they've been involved in, but Drummond is also doing pretty well with its results. Its S4 performance was the best it had been for four years, and the cumulative attainment by the end of S6 was the best it had been in 10 years. Prospective parents have picked up on that.

The success of the first project and the enthusiasm of the parents, who reported that their children were getting ready for school more quickly on Drummond days, has allowed the schools to expand the time to two days this term. The children are now working on personal writing through a theme of "Smarter, greener", which brings in art and science specialists, and they seem to love it. They all talk together about how much better it is to come up to the big school.

Drummond teachers also love it apparently. "Many of the teachers from the first phase are still involved, even though they weren't supposed to be, because they wanted to and were so enthusiastic," says Mr Reid. So, as well as art and science, the young pupils are still having classes in food and consumer technology, maths and PE.

As Mr Reid closes his folder, Mrs Murray opens her equally fat file to show the extensive planning and communication that has gone on between herself, her headteacher and the staff at Drummond. It is impressive, but it is also obvious that these are just bits of paper and, at the end of the day, it is the enthusiasm, creativity and determination of Mrs Murray, Mr Reid, Mr Crabb and the rest of the team that has made this project such a success.


"It is good fun, but obviously it is more than that," says Jessica Swift, S6 at Drummond High. "It will be good for our CVs and UCAS applications."

Jessica's view on working with the transition programme is shared by her two colleagues, Ellie Campbell and Ross Campbell. Involvement is not a chore, nor is it a wasted opportunity.

"It has been good for developing leadership skills and helped with my motivation," says Ross. "I assist in a number of ways, in the classroom, in PE, during break and I try to be there to welcome them in the morning. I go along in my free periods."

Ross plans to study business and recognises the leadership skills will be good for his CV, while Jessica is keen to support the literacy angle as she plans to read English at university.

"It's been good working with them in class. You can help them develop their opinions and decisions. Encouraging them to be more articulate has helped my language development," she says.

Ellie helps out in art, which she knows will look good on her application to Edinburgh Art College. "It is a big commitment, especially as they spend more days at the school, but it is really interesting," she says.

Working on the transition programme is just one of the personal development opportunities offered at Drummond, but it has proved popular.

"S6 have shown real enthusiasm for the project and given a lot of time," says Mr Reid. "We gave them choices and it has been really good for personal development."

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today