Small steps to a big change

17th May 2013 at 01:00
The transition from primary to secondary is being made light work in Glasgow

The bell marking the end of one period and the beginning of another doesn't carry much meaning in primary school. By secondary school, however, students know it is time to be promptly on the move to another class.

But at Jordanhill School in Glasgow, an all-through school with 462 primary and nearly 600 secondary students, the younger children are already learning its importance - thanks to the P6 to S2 transition programme designed to make their journey smoother.

From P3, children spend two 50-minute periods a week with secondary PE specialists. They study everything from gymnastics and creative dance to hockey, football and athletics.

By the time they reach P6, that has increased to four extra periods of maths taught by secondary staff (set according to ability); and two each of English (honing writing skills); science (including work in the laboratories on mini investigations); French; and one period of computing where they follow a tailor-made curriculum - a mix of business education, computing science and IT.

Jordanhill is the only non-specialist state school in Scotland directly funded by the Scottish government and the benefits of smoothing the route from primary to secondary, often one of the most distressing transitions in a child's life, have already become clear.

The collaboration - developed over the past few years - was designed to smooth transition, allow students to get to know secondary staff and get used to moving around the school. But a by-product has been improved academic performance.

The dip in attainment when students move from primary to secondary does not exist at Jordanhill, and the programme was singled out for glowing praise by inspectors when they visited last month.

Rector Dr Paul Thomson says: "We track pupil performance all the way through to S3 and we see no evidence of that dip in performance from P7 through to S2 that is reported elsewhere. In fact, our evidence is that progress accelerates through that phase."

Ruari Connor, a P7 teacher at Jordanhill, adds: "The transition from primary to secondary is so smooth it is unbelievable. The children know the secondary staff, the layout of the buildings, and have been in many of the rooms before. They don't have anything to fear when they move up to secondary."

He believes it is also invaluable for staff. Working closely with secondary has given him a more rounded view of education, he says, and has allowed secondary staff to get to know the children who will soon be their full-time students.

On the day of my visit, about 18 P7 students were being taught by Sandra Sterkenburgh, head of the school's business and computing faculty. They were following the tailor-made BECSIT (business education, computing science and information technology) course that spans P6 to S2.

Some of the students worked on Logo, a basic programming language; others used ICT skills, developed earlier in the course, to edit photos for their P7 profiles. Another group was using desktop publishing to produce a brochure about Paris - a city they are soon to visit with the school.

Mrs Sterkenburgh has been at Jordanhill for three years and is enthusiastic about the hour and a half she spends with P6 and P7 students each week. At her last school, she worked exclusively in secondary, making - at most - an annual visit to the primary.

"The primary students I now see are like sponges," she says. "I'm still blown away by what they are capable of producing."

It was she who put the BECSIT programme in place - hard work, she concedes, but the realities now that it is set up are "not too onerous".

For primary teachers, such as Mr Connor, the periods his class spends with secondary teachers are not free time. While some of his P7 students are with Mrs Sterkenburgh, he and the other P7 teacher, along with a secondary maths specialist, are each giving maths lessons to small classes of about seven students, allowing more one-to-one tuition.

The class has four periods of maths - split by ability - delivered like this each week. The two periods of English are delivered in the same way, with students working in smaller groups, although these are not set by ability. Teachers are rotated around the groups three times a year so that teachers get to know all the students.

When it comes to science, the school splits the practical lab work (delivered by secondary teachers) and theory (taught by class teachers).

This input from secondary staff also gives primary teachers the preparation time they need, and any of their additional free time is spent helping to support teachers lower down the school.

Class sizes of 33 are the norm here and this "cascade" model allows teachers to work with smaller groups. The school employs about 18 teachers in the primary and 45 teachers in the secondary, some of whom work across the whole school. Thomson believes that the key to the transition programme's success is the school's ethos.

"The key issue is that this is one school, not two schools on the same campus," he says. "We have a fully integrated management team and a shared set of aspirations we are all trying to achieve."


Not all secondary students at Jordanhill School in Glasgow go through the P6 to S2 transition programme, as the school takes an additional 33 students into secondary from up to 10 primaries in the area.

Jordanhill receives student profiles for the new additions at an early stage in P7. The children then come to Jordanhill every Wednesday after school for nine weeks, ending in June. Then, the same month, all the new S1s spend two days following the secondary timetable before they make the final leap and join the secondary in August.

Photo: Jordanhill is an all-through school that bridges the gap between primary and secondary. Photo credit: Getty

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