South Lanarkshire has taken a visionary step to ease the path from primaries to secondaries. Gerard Higgins reports
For many years, teachers have been bemoaning the lack of planning and co-operation on transfer from P7 to S1, yet there has been no national proposal to address the problems. In a radical initiative, South Lanarkshire council has appointed "raising achievement co-ordinators" to school clusters to make the step between primary and secondary school easier.
The co-ordinators have wide-ranging responsibilities to change teaching and learning in P6-S2. There is also a pastoral dimension to their post, as it provides children with a familiar face that knows them and their preferred learning styles.
Within my own school cluster around St Andrew's High, there were already regular planning meetings with the headteachers from St Louise's and St Vincent's primaries, and of the P7 teachers with the secondary school's science and technical staff, who provide curriculum materials, advice and apparatus. These meetings have helped to ensure continuity in the science and technology components of environmental studies. Now they will be extended to other areas of the curriculum.
Collaboration is a strong feature of the St Andrew's cluster. On World Book Day, for example, children from S2 visited their former primary school to read specially prepared stories and poems to P6 and P7 children. This was a nostalgic visit with plenty of reminiscing and renewing of old acquaintances and it gave the primary pupils an opportunity to discuss what life is really like in a secondary school.
We have also established a working group which is considering the transfer of information from P7 to S2, raising the attainment of boys and supporting the more able. In the longer term, through our cluster development plan, we will focus on common approaches to spelling, redrafting and self-correction techniques, presentation of work, homework policy and worksheet design.
Adopting common teaching approaches may be more problematic. Primary schools encourage children to work co-operatively and are generally more advanced in their use of group work. This produces inquisitive and confident learners who believe they can learn and are able to work comfortably without teacher supervision. The emphasis on oral work in a setting which encourages children's questions ensures that by the end of P7 many pupils are well on the way tobecoming independent learners. Secondary teachers could learn substantially from their primary colleagues through joint staff development exercises.
An appealing aspect of the new posts is the opportunity to undertake classroom action research as part of a higher degree. It provides a chance for deeper reflection, both as an individual and part of a group.
With teachers and professional observers long subscribing to the belief that time, professional support and finance are necessary for sustained professional development, South Lanarkshire is now investing the cash and has provided a visionary model that other authorities may wish to replicate.
The transfer of information from P7 to S1 and its appropriate use in planning effective learning and eliminating repetition is a fundamental concern. It is essential for primary teachers to share details about what is known.
We are working towards a transfer document with more definitive information on attainment and progress and then providing feedback to P7 on the usefulness and accuracy of the assessment information. All this will benefit future learning paths.
At the heart of any initiative to drive up attainment we must address two crucial factors: developing literacy and involving parents in their children's learning. Thirty years of research has established the pre-eminence of parents in determining their children's literacy levels and shown that parental support for learning is the surest way to success at school. A coherent approach to literacy in P6-S2 should achieve significant results, especially when parents know exactly what they can do to help.
Our reading programme is up and running in P6P7 and continues when the children transfer into S1 and we provide the parents with specific strategies and materials which involve them directly in their child's learning.
The St Andrew's cluster is committed to developing its partnership with parents and is canvassing their views about workshops on reading, writing, numeracy, the underachievement of boys and the role of fathers in their children's learning. We will involve them in planning the workshops and developing any additional parental programmes.
We are motivated by the principle of literacy for all and are committed to dispelling the myth that only privileged families are interested in education.
Gerard Higgins is a co-ordinator for St Andrew's High, East Kilbride