Achievement in Year 7 drops more than in English and maths. Adi Bloom reports
Projects aimed at improving pupils' transition between primary and secondary schools are more important for science than maths or English, according to a new study.
The report also found that, to be successful, the schemes should run from Year 5 to Year 8, rather than just in Year 6 and Year 7.
Martin Braund, a lecturer in science education at York University, examined the drop in achievement in science between primary and secondary school. He found two in five pupils failed to make the progress in key stage 3 suggested by their results in key stage 2. This is four times the drop in maths and five times that in English. And classroom observation indicates that, between 11 and 14, pupils' concentration levels decline more in science than in English or maths.
Mr Braund suggests that this may be because secondary teachers often introduce scientific terms and concepts that pupils have already covered at primary level. Repeating the same work, with no additional challenges, merely alienates pupils.
And, while secondaries often appoint transition co-ordinators in maths and English, this rarely happens in science.
Mr Braund therefore decided to introduce a transition programme specifically tailored for science lessons. The programme, which dealt with the science of fizzy drinks and of bread, was trialled in 49 primaries and 11 secondaries.
All primary teachers were positive about the scheme, acknowledging that it allowed pupils to look forward to secondary school and to see a broader purpose to their work.
But they struggled to fit transition projects into a curriculum dominated by national tests. One teacher said: "We finish our national tests, and we've got all this stuff to do."
Mr Braund suggests teaching blocks of transfer work from Years 5 to 8, not just Years 6 to 7. This would enable pupils to learn how existing knowledge can be built on and developed, without feeling that they are merely repeating the same topics.
Primary teachers also feared that any progress might be undermined in secondary school. One teacher said: "I just hope they pick it up at the secondary school. I have my doubts, though."
Most key stage 3 teachers felt the project was of value. But they were less enthusiastic than their primary colleagues. One teacher said: "Not sure it will help transfer . some children were bored because they felt it was repetitive."
The pupils denied this. Instead, they found being able to draw on previous knowledge during practical lessons gave them renewed confidence. They liked to feel that their previous learning was still valid and relevant. A Year 7 pupil said: "It made the Year 7 like the Year 6 teacher, and it helped me."
Mr Braund said such projects were vital. "To do nothing to help improve continuity and progression in science is no longer an option," he said. "The consequences for science education and for a better-informed citizenry could be dire."