Transition leaves much to be desired

26th March 2004 at 00:00
The start of secondary school should offer stunning opportunities to children and teachers alike. It's the chance to begin afresh, to cast off your old, quiet, loud, lazy or swotty self and be seen through new eyes.

For teachers, there are new young minds to help shape, to enthuse, to inspire.

Why, then, has key stage 3 always been the education system's black spot? These have notoriously been the years when children mark time, nurture their adolescent misery, and become the groups that teachers dread.

Taking on 12 to 14-year-olds is hard. Children are overrun by changing moods, obsessed with themselves and the opposite sex, and have lost the charm and openness that they had at the end of primary school. But their brains are developing apace, they have become more questioning, they are able to understand in more depth. So the Government's KS3 strategy came not a minute too soon, and it is beginning to make a difference. Although the Office for Standards in Education's report on its third year (see page 8) is heavily dotted with "could do better" comments, secondary schools are making progress at a tough time. The three years of the strategy have been plagued by teacher shortages in key subjects and a funding crisis which made it hard for school leaders to keep their eye on the KS3 ball.

Ofsted says the strategy is helping to improve teaching, lesson planning and links with primary schools. But there is still a long way to go.

Literacy skills are not consolidated well across other subjects, nor, unsurprisingly given the recruitment problems, are maths skills. Curriculum continuity from primary to secondary "remains a key weakness" and connections between secondary subjects are often missed. Part of the problem is that this whole-school strategy was introduced in bits. But now the onus is on schools to overturn the attitudes of the past. Young teenagers need the most creative, imaginative teaching they can provide.

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