The case for a wide-ranging and ambitious strategy to transform early secondary education is well understood by many heads and teachers. I wrote last week to all schools with key stage 3 pupils about the plans for the implementation of the strategy, but it may be worth explaining again why the Government sees this as such a priority.
What is happening in primary schools provides the starting point for key stage 3. Year 7 teachers confirm that it is not just the KS2 test results which tell a remarkable story. They see for themselves a difference in the children. Secondary teachers who have seen primary literacy hours and daily maths lessons, or have invited primary teachers in to give demonstration lessons, are often inspired by the teaching's pace and rigour.
We have to build on the primary achievement and tackle the "fresh start" attitude and the lack of challenge in Year 7 for some pupils. The primary strategies have also provided lessons for government on implementing policy. We have learnt what can be achieved by sustained commitment and investment that reaches all schools, not just a selected few.
Next year all secondary schools will receive a share of the pound;82 million that is being invested in KS3 through the Standards Fund, with some receiving more intensive support.
We have trialled draft frameworks for teaching in English and maths in more than 200 pilot schools, and final versions will be published in April. The feedback suggests we can be confident they will meet the exacting standards set by the primary frameworks, and will soon become indispensable. No one could pretend that the first years of the literacy and numeracy strategies were easy but the results came through rapidly.The evidence from the KS3 pilot suggests similar benefits.
We also know the importance of making use of existing best practice and expertise. The pilot schools and their education authorities provide us with a rich source of feedback. Not all of it is glowing - it wouldn't be helpful if it was. But we are excited by the way the strategy has been embraced. Its value is rarely doubted, and, despite the pressures, its momentum and pace appreciated. Now the English and maths strands are well under way, the introduction of programmes in science, ICT and teaching and learning in the foundation subjects is keenly anticipated.
As well as enabling us to refine the training, the pilot has provided us with some tips for managing the strategy, including:
* integrating KS3 strategy within the school development plan;
* making use of existing management teams rather than creating new ones;
* ensuring English and maths staff see primary lessons;
* using in-service training days flexibly, taking account of priorities;
* encouraging department members to work together;
* considering as early as possible the teaching time requirements for English and maths;
* planning for the introduction of catch-up programmes in English and maths.
If all middle and secondary schools adopt the national strategy with the same alacrity and skill seen in the pilot schools, we have every reason to expect rapid and substantial progress. By 2004, 14-year-olds who have benefited from both the primary and the KS3 programme should be achieving standards far higher than ever before.
Michael Barber is head of the Department for Education and Employment's standards and effectiveness unit