Some colleagues and I gathered together this week to consider how well we manage the transition of Primary 7 pupils to secondary school. We were reminded that we had been given clear advice about this in the Education 10-14 in Scotland report published in 1986.
What is so difficult that we cannot all manage to plan a full and worthwhile programme to prepare pupils to move seamlessly from one educational setting to another? Would the world of business take 18 years to implement one project of this magnitude? Are our settings so very different across Scotland that we must all go off and design individual programmes?
Most of us probably provide pupils with an opportunity to visit their high schools, but is that just tokenism? The pupils are very important for the high school and usually very excited about what lies ahead. Yet the experiences offered by different schools vary enormously.
Some pupils meet a few of their future S1 classmates for one day's visit, while others are welcomed to their secondary school for a few days to mix with the whole peer group and share well planned examples of the lessons they will study the following session. Some primary schools welcome back former pupils to meet the current P7s to discuss issues which might be exciting or worrying for individuals. It is probably in the area of pastoral care that most is done at present.
For some clusters of schools that may be the extent of preparation for the major move that lies ahead. At the other end of the spectrum colleagues from both sectors may have worked on curriculum developments designed to enable pupils from different associated primary schools to come together and move ahead with their studies without a fresh start.
Hopefully the days are long gone when S1 pupils are presented with a novel which they read and studied in depth in P5.
One of the most obvious developments we should all have completed years ago is to order the topics studied in mathematics. It is not helpful to welcome an S1 class into a maths lesson only to discover that, although they are all halfway through level E, they have all tackled different topics in different orders and must therefore start again. It is a waste of time for each cluster of schools to go through this exercise when it could easily be achieved through central organisation at local authority or national level.
Is this not a task Learning and Teaching Scotland could be doing for us?
Many modern languages teachers at secondary schools offer support to staff in their associated primaries to guide the work at P6 and P7 level, so that pupils arrive in S1 with shared experiences. The large amounts of money which have been made available nationally should have enabled transition in this area of the curriculum. French programmes have been easier to access than German resources, but wouldn't it have been wonderful if visiting specialists from one high school could have taught the modern language in each associated primary? I can't imagine it would have cost more than training the vast numbers of primary teachers who have studied a Modern Languages in the Primary School course.
While some primary school staffs would walk past secondary colleagues without recognising one another, others have used part of their continuing professional development time this year to agree the sharing of topics and help each other teaching across the sectors.
About 100 primary teachers have taught S1 and S2 English classes in level A and B this year. Many more secondary teachers have taught a whole range of subjects to P7 pupils, as time allowed. Could this not be an entitlement for all P7 pupils at this time of the year?
Information technology is another medium for sharing knowledge about schools. Some pupils explore a school's website. Picasso software contains excellent transition information for pupils and their families to explore and some schools are publishing pupils' writing for buddying schemes where older children comment on the writing skills of the younger ones across the great primary-secondary divide. This can be a powerful tool to encourage both sets of pupils to think about aspects of the curriculum.
Will colleagues still be meeting to talk about P7 to S1 transition in another 18 years or will my grandchildren be experiencing something much improved from now?
Sheilah Jackson is headteacher of Queensferry Primary, EdinburghIf you have any comments, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org