Unfit to leap the 11-plus gap

9th March 2007 at 00:00
Today's youngsters need help to handle secondary school

EXCESSIVE TESTING and the demise of the nuclear family have left primary pupils ill-equipped to deal with the social and academic demands of secondary school.

Research reveals that primaries need to provide lessons in emotional literacy and self-awareness if they are to ensure that pupils have the maturity necessary for secondary transition.

Helen Whiteley, of Edge Hill university in Lancashire, questioned more than 350 Year 7 pupils to observe their levels of emotional intelligence. They were asked how they would respond to hypothetical situations involving friends and teachers, and to describe the emotions displayed on a picture of a face.

Those who scored highly were more able to adjust to the academic, social and behavioural demands of Year 7. They also had higher athletic ability than their less emotionally aware counterparts.

Dr Whiteley said: "We make sure children have the academic skills to move to secondary, but we also need to look at emotional skills. With the demise of the nuclear family, children don't have relatives nurturing these skills.

"Primaries used to do more nurturing. But the pressure of meeting targets has pushed out time for emotional development, so large numbers of children are not able to cope with transition."

Dr Whiteley welcomed the use of traditional schemes to ease the transition, such as inviting Year 6 pupils to meet secondary teachers. But she warned that such schemes are limited by the emotional capacity of the participants.

"You can have the best literacy teacher in the world, but if children do not have pre-literacy skills, they won't learn to read," she said.

"Similarly, if children don't have a certain level of interpersonal skill to begin with, they cannot take advantage of transition sessions."

Dr Whiteley recommended a Year 6 programme that would help pupils to understand their own and other people's emotions. This would teach them to control their feelings, enabling them to leave old friendships behind and form new ones.

Dr Whiteley said that teachers needed to be properly trained to deliver such a programme. "You need to be very aware of your own emotional strengths and weaknesses to help others to develop emotional literacy," she said.

"There needs to be support for staff. You shouldn't take for granted that teachers have sufficient emotional literacy skills."

* pqualter@uclan.ac.uk

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