Head 'in despair' that secondment is ending

13th February 2004 at 00:00
We have discovered keys to doors we didn't even know existed," says the headteacher of Knightswood Secondary in Glasgow, which introduced a primary teacher to improve literacy levels in 2001-02.

Following the presumption of mainstreaming which led to some pupils coming into S1 with a reading age of six, the school set up a three-month project with a primary teacher on secondment.

"It was simple for us in a way," says the head, Sybil Simpson. "If a child hasn't a 10-year-old's reading age, he or she can't access the curriculum and English teachers are not generally trained to teach reading. So, we asked for a primary teacher and set these pupils together as a class and gave them extra support for learning as well as support across the curriculum."

The project was deemed a success and the city council agreed to the secondment of another primary teacher, Susan Clark, from August 2002 to March 2004. The school now has two support for learning classes in both S1 and S2, with an average of 15 pupils in each, who are helped with literacy and numeracy.

"There have been significant gains in reading ages in just a year," says Eilean Carlin, the principal teacher of support for learning. "We have pupils who have moved from 7.1 to 8.1 and even from 7.1 to 8.5. That's significant in that child's life and their parents', all of whom have been very supportive."

There has been no resistance to Mrs Clark's secondment among the secondary staff, says Mrs Simpson. "I've only heard them say it's wonderful. Susan's advice is very much valued.

"As management, you have to explain in advance the reasons for the secondment and there is an acceptance then that it's for the benefit of the pupils.

"The staff can see the benefits and they now feel more comfortable and confident in their own skills at levels A and B in 5-14."

Mrs Clark gives advice on methodologies and materials at levels A and B across the curriculum. Departments draft materials which she adapts and modifies for use at the appropriate level.

She also goes out to Knightswood Secondary's seven associated primary schools to identify and get to know the children who will need support.

"It's a real success story," says Mrs Simpson, "but we need funding to sustain the success.

"I'm in despair that we'll lose Susan at the end of March. I'll be pleading to keep her.

"We need stability and sustainment. You can't fund these children's education from mainstream monies. We need to run this for five years. If I could keep Susan until 2008, it would make a tremendous difference.

"This is proving special and if we can't sustain it, we'll be failing these children and their parents."

Mrs Simpson welcomes the wider use of primary teachers in secondary schools "as long as there is a meaningful task in any curricular area and the teacher works hand in glove with the given department".

She thinks there should be a general acceptance as long as the primary teachers are not being used - or perceived as being used - to fill the jobs where there is a secondary teacher shortage.

Ms Carlin is delighted with the secondment scheme. "We've got the benefit of a different expertise and experience with Susan in the department," she says.

"Not only are we now a 4.4 full-time equivalent staff as opposed to 3.4 - a huge input - but she has drawn our attention to new and different kinds of materials and methodologies at a level we didn't have experience in."

Mrs Simpson says this type of model addresses the presumption of mainstreaming. "Jack McConnell should be thinking like this, rather than just offering some kind of blanket cover of primary teachers. Secondments have to be specifically focused. You have to have a reason for it," she says.

"Susan is seen as a support for learning teacher by staff. Pupils just see her as a teacher, not a primary teacher, even though they know her from her transition work in primaries.

"The school board see the secondment as a creative opportunity and completely supports it."

So, should every secondary school have a primary teacher on secondment? "No. Every school should have at least two," says Mrs Simpson.

"For example, I could see a primary teacher helping children in particular areas such as information technology. I can also see it in modern languages and science.

"But first of all we need to concentrate on literacy and numeracy, and then IT, because these are the skills which will open up the curriculum for these pupils."

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