Someone somewhere has to give us the time;Curriculum

5th November 1999 at 00:00
Sandra Percy is tired of people pontificating about all the things she should be doing but can't

As the 5-14 curriculum celebrates its 10th birthday, it has been interesting to read articles by people like Brian Boyd and Jim Docherty on the transition between primary and secondary schools.

Very few people in either sector would disagree about the importance of this transitional period. But the ways it can be made more meaningful are still debatable. Consistency is, of course, a crucial aspect. But I would argue that time is the key.

I know there is never enough time for anything in teaching. But if the apparent regression between Primary 7 and Secondary 1-2 is to be truly addressed, someone somewhere must provide the time to allow teachers to do it.

I am a secondary teacher. When I was researching my PhD, I was lucky enough to be given time to go into primary classrooms and study how teachers there were tackling the introduction of the English language guidelines.

It was very interesting. But it became very clear that there was a vast difference between primary teachers and most secondary teachers in the way they plan, differentiate pupils and allocate them to groups.

Such was the impact of this experience, that when I returned to my S1 class in the next academic session I concentrated on the use of groups. And I no longer accepted that sitting in a group equalled working in a group. I tried, and am still trying, to ensure that sitting in a group equates with meaningful work as a group.

I have not found it easy to adopt a radically different approach, but I do firmly believe it was the right decision. Yet that is only one facet of how children learn. Where do I find the time to tackle all the other facets?

In his article of September 3, Jim Docherty said that "results are assiduously passed on by primary schools, but are rarely used as evidence of prior attainment in individual secondary classrooms". I take issue with this. Many secondary teachers take more than one S1 class of up to 60 pupils. While every teacher would like to sit and read the primary reports for all the pupils and all the subjects, time does not allow. In some subjects where national test results have to be taken into consideration, particularly English and mathematics, teachers do read and transfer to their profiles the essential points contained in the primary reports. Indeed, if Next Steps are to be meaningful, they cannot be ignored. In theory the teacher should then plan an individual programme for each pupil. In practice there is not time.

At present many secondary teachers feel like jugglers - all the balls are in the air and with luck we will catch them when they fall.

Although many primary teachers will share such sentiments as they cope with the ever-increasing demands of an ever-increasing primary curriculum, no doubt they too would like to be given the time to come into secondary school to see how we work - and not just for a day.

Jim Docherty cites case studies and current research into how the situation can be improved. Well, such research has its place. But teachers now are essentially concerned with the nuts and bolts of everyday practical life in the classroom and - I dare to use the word - survival.

I do agree with Jim Docherty that as a secondary teacher I could "do better". However, the truth - and I believe it to be the whole truth - is that I am not given the time to do so.

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